2 The Formation of the Maxwell-Briscoe Company
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■ 2 ■ The Formation of the Maxwell-Briscoe Company T he fact that Jonathan Maxwell selected Ben Briscoe as the man with whom he might begin a new automotive venture is interesting , inasmuch as it presented much more risk than working with the wealthy Barbours, for whom starting a car company was more of an adventure than an occupation. Briscoe was a good businessman, but not wealthy in the sense that he had command of a large amount of investment capital. Unlike in his venture with David Buick, Briscoe for his part was attracted by the vehicle Maxwell sketched out for him, which contained several innovations. For one, the engine would be located under a hood at the front, a position favored by most expensive touring cars but not characteristic of the early Fords, Cadillacs, or Oldsmobiles, or even of Maxwell’s Northern design. It would have a sliding gear transmission and three-point suspension, and a side door that opened to the rear seat in the touring model versions. This latter change could be quite a sales feature considering that the rear seat of most touring cars of that day was entered through a door that opened at the back. ■ 13 14 ■ C H A P T E R 2 Briscoe now took the initiative, still without Buick’s knowledge, of entering into an arrangement with Maxwell before he went to Europe. “I agreed at once that if he [Maxwell] would join me, I would find the money required to build a trial model, each of us owning one-third of the project, the remaining one-third to be given to someone whom I would find to put in some money and be a help to us in our later financing if the car turned out well.”1 Maxwell estimated that it would take $3,000 to design and build his “trial” model, for which a better term would be a “demonstration” model. He and Briscoe would invest $1,000 each in the project, while a Mr. C. W. Althouse, a friend whom Briscoe had approached, agreed to invest $1,000 as well for his one-third interest. The three signed a contract to that effect on July 4, 1903, before Briscoe left for Europe. Secure in the knowledge that he had the necessary funds, Maxwell resigned from the Northern Manufacturing Company and made arrangements with John Lauer to begin constructing his demonstration model in the latter’s machine shop. This was the same shop in which Charles Brady King had constructed his first automobile in 1896. Maxwell considered Lauer to be one of the most skilled machinists in the city of Detroit, as good as Henry Leland, if not better.2 Maxwell then introduced another major innovation to his demonstration model, a radically new type of cooling arrangement called a thermo-syphon system, in which the high heat generated by the engine caused water to circulate to the cylinders and back through the radiator without the need for a water pump. When Briscoe returned from Europe in September 1903, Althouse, disappointed that it would take more than two months to complete the demonstration model and fearful that he might lose his investment, severed his relationship with Briscoe and Maxwell, selling them his one-third share of their enterprise. Maxwell completed the demonstration model of his design near the end of December 1903 and invited Briscoe for a trial run on Christmas Day. The drive went quite well, so much so that Briscoe immediately began making plans to form a Maxwell-Briscoe automobile company to place the model into production. F o r m a t i o n o f t h e M a x w e l l - B r i s c o e C o m p a n y ■ 15 Actually, in 1903 not a great amount of capital was necessary to enter the automobile business once a demonstration model had been successfully engineered. One had only to rent a large empty building, hire the necessary workers, and contract with local machine shops for the manufacture of parts that the new company did not wish to make on its own. These then would be assembled into completed vehicles. Outside suppliers were not difficult to find. In fact, the January 1904 issue of the Cycle and Automotive Trade Journal listed 49 pages of such automotive suppliers.3 Bills for parts and workers’ salaries would be paid from the money received as the vehicles were...


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