Ohio Electric Car Company

Version 2.9


For more information about Ohio, please see the L-O webpage.


The Dodge brothers of Toledo grew up in a fine house to a successful father. Frederick B. Dodge was the head of a large insurance brokerage, and a white lime manufacturing company. White lime (Calcium Hydroxide) was a base material for whitewash, mortar, plaster, and a hair removal crème. Frederick Sr. was also a director of the Toledo Electric Co, Toledo Bolt & Nut, and VP of the Great Western Pin Co, of which Charles F. Milburn, the last family member involved with the eponymous wagon company, was secretary and treasurer.


Frederick H. Dodge (“Jr.”) was the eldest son by five years over Henry Perkins “Perk” Dodge, and was favored with the lion’s share of inheritance. When Frederick H. graduated from MIT he was made Secretary of the Toledo White Lime Co.


H. P. Dodge graduated from the University of Michigan with an electrical engineering degree in 1893, the year their father died, and he was put to work in the white-lime engineering department. Frederick Jr., who was the treasurer by this time, became president. Perk remained in the engineering department where he developed a superior white lime manufacturing method in 1906.


H. P. Dodge developed a design for an electric car that appears to be based on the Baker "Motor Front” shaft-drive cars, which were first sold five years earlier. 1909 was the year Baker put shaft-drive into all of their heavy cars, three years before most electric carmakers adopted it.


Around February of 1909 H. P. Dodge was said to be looking for a manufacturing partner. He was on the University of Michigan tennis team with Horace Suydam (class of ’94). Horace’s father, Frank Suydam, was President of the Milburn Wagon Co, and Horace had become secretary. Perk went with the obvious choice.


An agreement was made in which Milburn would make the bodies for Perk's electric, and the cars would be assembled at the factory. Other components came from outside vendors. Carpenters, blacksmiths, upholsterers, and sheet metal workers made Milburn’s commercial wagons, and contract automobile bodies for Willys-Overland and Pope-Toledo. The factory was not equipped with heavy drop forges, rolling mills, or the full machine shops necessary to make the platforms. The high-speed motors were from General Electric and required double reduction for the straight-cut bevel drive.


The Ohio Electric Car Company was incorporated In September of 1909, capitalized at $75,000, by lumber baron Abram M. Chesbrough, president; James Brown Bell (married to Marie Suydam), treasurer; Frank D. Suydam Jr., secretary; and Henry Perkins Dodge, general manager. Other directors included: Rathbun Fuller, Henry E. Marvin (Perk’s father-in-law), Frederick H. Dodge, and Robert R. Lee.


In December of 1910, press reports mentioned a planned merger between Ohio and Milburn. The merger didn’t gel. After his father’s death, in the spring of 1911, Horace W. Suydam, Milburn’s secretary since 1896, became president. This seems to have upset the merger plans. By 1911, a rift had formed between the Ohio Electric faction and Horace Suydam over the future of the electric car. The Dodges, and Frank D. Suydam Jr., wanted to continue making sophisticated coaches for the wealthy, while Horace Suydam wanted to make a new generation of lower priced electrics using the Milburn company’s efficient, highly mechanized, body assembly techniques. They hired Karl Probst to design such a car.


Ohio was reincorporated and moved to a new factory on nearby West Bancroft Street. It was four stories high with a footprint of 60 x 240 feet. At the time of the split, Milburn was making farm wagons, buggies, commercial vehicles, and motorcar bodies on contract; they had a market cap of $700,000. The market cap of Ohio was increased to $150,000.


After the initial model “D,” Ohio used the Dodge Magnetic Controller, which had a gutta percha (rubberized) control disk that switched solenoid actuators, rather than a mechanical controller, which required moderate effort. They soon added electric brakes. The patented controller was similar to Frank J. Sprague’s design, first used in elevators, and then streetcars, such as the Chicago South Side Elevated RR, and interurban lines; allowing a coupled string of individually powered rail cars to be operated by one motorman.


The new Ohio design was ideal for the elderly, and people with some physical disabilities. The downside was that the controller depended on gravity to open the circuit when a solenoid coil was switched off. The contactor points could arc and weld themselves to the fixed contacts. Potentially, if one lost the presence of mind to hit the cutout, this could cause a runaway car.


Ohio bought the rights to Fay O. Farwell’s patent for duplex drive, which the company employed starting with the 1912 model M. This format was intended for an optional forward driving position when driven by a chauffeur, or when a fifth passenger might block the owner/driver’s view from the rear seat. In 1914, Ohio sued Anderson (Detroit Electric) and Rauch & Lang over breach of the duplex drive patent.


On the first series of cars, a four-point yoke suspended the GE motor from a large ball-joint directly behind the front axle. The armature shaft faced forward and had a sprocket that drove a silent-chain reduction to the sprocket wheel on a long driveshaft. The shaft had no U-joints and went straight into the bevel-gear rear end. All of the driveline was encased in a stamped sheet-metal tube. A pair of reach rods ran from the rear axle to the motor yoke, keeping things in alignment.


Beginning with the model M, Ohio used a shorter driveshaft, and a low speed Crocker-Wheeler motor using a hollow armature with the driveshaft running through it. They were coupled at the front of the motor with no reduction. The later cars suspended the motor on a pair of small leaf springs, with center pivots on both sides of the motor. These luxury coaches had aluminum body panels which looked seamless.


The steel frame was made more ridged by the insertion of wood in the side channels. It was thought that a more ridged frame reduced the rate at which the flexing of the body would lead to disassociation of the components; open bodies could take some flexing, enclosed cabins not so much. Enclosed cars with explosion engines were often called “rattle traps.”


In 1913 Ohio doubled the size of its factory and workforce by adding a second building and employing 200 more workers. The new plant was of the same dimensions as the 1911 factory. Production was said to be 55 cars a month.


At the annual meeting, in mid February of 1914, Ohio declared its first cash dividend, of 6%. The executives were: Frederick H. Dodge, president; Cassius M. Foster, VP; Dr. Otto Marx, VP & treasurer, with H. P. Dodge remaining as the general manager.


Later in 1914 Frank Suydam Jr. sold his interest in Ohio and moved back to Milburn, joining his brother Horace to develop a simpler car at a lower price point, this became the Milburn Light Electric. Frederick Dodge and Otto Marx followed him that winter.


Perk Dodge left Ohio Electric in August of 1915 to form the H. P. Dodge Engineering Co, a maker of lead-acid car batteries. He also became a director of Walding, Kinnan, and Marvin, his father-in-law’s drug company. People affiliated with the Dodge family’s businesses bought the Ohio shares from F. Suydam, F. Dodge, & Otto Marx.


Coal and lumber magnate Marcus V. Barbour became president; Vice-President Cassius M. Foster took over as general manager, while Herman Brand became secretary and treasurer, other directors were; Joshua F. Vogel, Arthur E. Baker, Rathbun Fuller, and Henry E. Marvin.


Factory capacity had apparently grown to exceed demand for the electrics, as Ohio started making bodies for the model 86 Overland Roadster. It had a “cloverleaf” seating arraignment, with two-bucket seats in front, and a rear bench seat, accessible by a passage between the front buckets. It sold for $2,900. Rathbun Fuller, who was on the boards of both Ohio and Overland, probably brought in this business.


The US Congress declared war against Germany on April 6th 1917. War changed manufacturing priorities and affected commodity prices, electric cars were especially sensitive to lead and copper prices. On October 11th 1917 Ohio filed to dissolve. Known serial numbers suggest that Ohio made about 6,600 cars, making it the fifth largest producer.