York-Hoover Body Corp, and its predecessor, York Body Co. are best remembered today as a prolific supplier of wooden depot hack and station wagon bodies for the Ford Model T. Still in business today, the York Group, remains the nation’s premiere manufacturers of burial caskets, a line introduced by York-Hoover in the early 30s.
The firm began as the York Wagon Gear Co., founded in 1892 by Peter Keller, a York, Pennsylvania carriage maker, to supply the area’s buggy and wagon builders with a locally produced source of bodies in the white, carriage gears, axles and other wood and metal parts and sub-assemblies.
Like the Lomberg Body Company in Joilet, Illinois and the hundreds of other body makers, from 1920 until the start of World War II, York-Hoover would evolve and cross pollenate with other companies as the transportation industry migrated away from horse drawn carriages to motorize vehicles.
In Chicago Morris Markin would take over the Lomberg Body Company in 1920. Markin would further takeover auto manufacturer Commonwealth Motors, Lomberg’s largest customer and create a specialty car company. Commonwealth’s largest customer was the Checker Taxi syndicate in Chicago. Triangulating the body company, vehicle assembly and taxicab operations, Markin would have a magic mix of companies that would ultimately build an enterprise that would be known for the production of the legendary taxicab the Checker.
York-Hoover was no different than any of the other body makers who would try to serve in the specialty car and truck market. Ten years after Checker was created York-Hoover would try to break into the taxi-cab manufacturing business. Their taxicab would use the 1933 Ford model 40 4-cylinder chassis in order to produce the Model F-40-33 Taxicab. Designed to compete against the purpose-built cabs sold by Checker, it would offer many options consistent with Checker.
Among the stock Ford components used in the York-Hoover conversion were stations wagon cowl and windshield header, grill, radiator, lamps, horn, fenders, running boards, spare tire carrier, bumpers, taxicab springs and heavy-duty generator.
The Ford hood was also used but modified to incorporate two large chrome horizontal louvers. Specifications included leather upholstery, shatterproof glass, hot water heater, two-tone paint, and wiring for radio installation. Also available was a town car version which included a removable top over the driver’s compartment that could be stored on board during fair weather.
Unfortunately the taxi was not a success in the marketplace and the project was abandoned. Checker would maintain its dominance in the taxicab supply business, by 1940 Checker had cleared the table of most of the competition. Moller was out, GM was phasing out the General line (formerly Yellow Cab Manufacturing). Only DeSoto and Packard were left to compete against Checker in the taxicab marketplace. Checker taxicab production was more than DeSoto and Packard combined, Checker was clearly the market leader.
Unable to take on Checker in the taxicab business, from 1933-1938, York-Hoover supplied Hudson with panel delivery bodies for the Hudson and Terraplane commercial chassis. Their streamlined appearance complimented the distinctive mid-30s Hudson chassis making them the best-looking factory panel deliveries of the era.
Unfortunately for York-Hoover, Checker would seek to expand into businesses beyond taxicab assembly. Checker Cab replaced York-Hoover and took over production of Hudson panel van bodies from 1938 thru 1940. For York-Hoover it would now be the second time that they got beat by Checker
Checker would cross the path of York-Hoover again just before the outbreak of WWII. During the military buildup, prior to the United States entry into WWII, the American Bantam Car Company, in Butler, PA, was determined to meet the Army’s request for proposals on a lightweight reconnaissance vehicle; which would become the Jeep. Bantam was bankrupt and their plant only had a skeleton crew, so they needed help on several components, such as a body produced to their design layout.
The American Bantam Car Company produced the cowl and hood by adapting tooling from their Bantam Roadster. Bantam subcontracted with York-Hoover Body Corporation to design and produce a custom body, from the firewall to the backend. In 1940 all Bantams used York-Hoover bodies
The American Bantam Car Company was the only company to deliver their prototype to the Army by the specified deadline date; September 23rd, 1940. After the prototype was tested and proved itself, Bantam got the approval to complete the remainder of the build of 70 units; delivering them during November and December of 1940, all these BRC-40 Jeeps have York-Hoover bodies.
In 1941, Bantam, Willys and Ford all received contracts for 1,500 next generation “jeep” prototypes for further evaluation and testing. York-Hoover Body Corporation had to turn down making the bodies for the 1941 Bantam “jeeps”, due to many other production commitments.
Many historians have questioned why and how the Checker BRC prototypes were produced, clearly Bantam was looking for a partner to assist in the production of the Jeep. It’s not clear how Bantam fulfilled the contracted sales order of 1500 units, but the orders was filled, produced from March 31 through December 6, 1941.
During this time, Bantam needed to find a partner to demonstrate to the US Government that they had the ability to supply the army with a constant flow of Jeeps. Who was the most logical partner? Clearly the answer was Checker. Checker ran an automotive production line for close to twenty years. The Checker facilities were modern and well located centrally in Michigan. Checker was a player in the third party automotive production business having taken over production of Hudson bodies from York-Hoover.
Bantam entered an agreement with Checker Cab Manufacturing, the agreement from February 1941 reads:
Checker and Bantam each agree that in the event that either obtains orders from the United States Governments for Bantam cars or other products in excess of its production, it will offer to assign or otherwise transfer, subject to requisite approval, to the other party, that portion of the order which it cannot fill.
This agreement is pretty clear. If Bantam won the bid to produce Jeeps for the Army any excess orders that could not be filled by Bantam would be filled by Checker.
In the end Bantam did not execute its agreement with Checker. The War Department required a large number of vehicles to be manufactured in a relatively short time and clearly the combination of two independent companies was not a formula that the Army felt comfortable when placing an order.
Unfortunately for Bantam, the Willys design won out and Ford was selected as the secondary supplier; with Ford building to the Willys design, so that all jeeps had interchangeable parts. Bantam was out and so was Checker. All was not lost for Bantam, York-Hoover and Checker, all three companies won a government contract to build other military equipment during the war years of 1942-1945.
Having designed the Jeep body York-Hoover was out of the Jeep business, they lost in the taxicab business to Checker. Considering they lost their Hudson van body business to Checker and the agreement between Checker and Bantam essentially replaced York-Hoover, one can only assume that York-Hoover leadership was not very fond of Checker.
In the post war period York-Hoover would expand into truck van body production. Any kid growing up in the 50’s or 60’s would most likely remember one of York-Hoover’s most popular products: the Wonderbread Truck!
Yes, unable to be successful in the taxicab business or Jeep production, York-Hoover would build trucks to deliver Hostess Twinkees and Cup Cakes. In 1958 when Checker was introducing the Checker A9, York-Hoover would exit vehicle production and as stated earlier and would expand in the casket making business.
So the moral to this story is, if you lost to Checker, you could end up selling cup cakes.
Mark Theobald Coachbuilt.com
York-Hoover Body and Jeep by Stephen H. Smith
However they’re still around and folks are just dying to get their products.
Interesting slice of automotive history that I was not aware of. It sounds like York probably got into casket making as side business to put their woodworking expertise to good use and help keep the lights on during the depression. I wonder if they ever envisioned that caskets would be their prime product one day. It reminds me of Kaiser making Liberty Ships at breakneck speed and providing health benefits to their employees to keep them on the job. Eventually, that health insurance would be Kaiser’s prime business. As for York, they did at least manage to survive, albeit in the business of death.