MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Chrysler Archives
Published 11.18.2020

First experimental Rambler with Jeffery Chrysler ArchivesFirst experimental Rambler with Thomas B. Jeffery (Chrysler Archives) 

Thomas B. Jeffery was a great automotive pioneer that helped place America on wheels during the early 1900s. He built his first experimental Rambler model in his machine shop, which was a bicycle factory in Chicago during the late 1800s.

Born in England in 1845, Jeffery immigrated to the United States when he was 18 and settled in Chicago. He was long noted for his many contributions to the bicycle industry during his early career. Jeffery achieved great fame and success with his invention of the popular clincher tire during the 1880s, which led to the development of the G& J pneumatic tire. However, he was best known for the popular Rambler bicycles that were manufactured from 1879 to the turn of the century.

Thomas B Jeffery Chrysler ArchivesThomas B Jeffery (Chrysler Archives)

When the 20th century began, Jeffery shifted his focus to building new automobiles in response to this growing industry. He sold his bicycle business and purchased a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he and his son Charles began manufacturing one-cylinder Rambler automobiles in 1901. The 1901 Rambler Model A was the first model designed by Charles T. Jeffery. The model was built at the Kenosha plant with the engine located in the front of the vehicle and the steering wheel on the left side.

Early 1907 Rambler Advertising Chrysler Archives RESIZEDEarly 1907 Rambler Advertising (Chrysler Archives)

The first Rambler models were offered for sale in March 1902 for a cost of $750. It was an immediate success among consumers who wanted to do more traveling. More than 1,500 runabout and stanhope models were built and manufactured in 1902. This would make the Rambler automobile the world’s second mass-produced car, one year after the Olds and a year ahead of Ford.

The Kenosha Plant Chrysler Archives RESIZEDThe Kenosha Plant (Chrysler Archives)

In 1904, Thomas Jeffery started to manufacture two-cylinder vehicles along with a four-cylinder Rambler that was introduced to the public in 1906. One of the most prestigious and factual magazines at the time was called Motor Age. This publication had the following to say about the marketability of steering from the left side of the vehicle: “whether this will become popular remains to be seen.”

Early 1908 Rambler ad Chrysler Archives RESIZEDEarly 1908 Rambler ad (Chrysler Archives)

Rambler became one of the best-known automakers in the industry during the early 1900s. The Automobile Topics magazine called Thomas Jeffery a well-known philanthropist. His contributions to the automotive community were admired by many around the world, and many consumers thoroughly enjoyed his Rambler automobiles.

An early color ad for the Jeferey sedan Chrysler ArchivesAn early color ad for the Jeffery sedan (Chrysler Archives) 

In 1910, at the age of 65, Thomas Jeffery suffered a stroke and died while vacationing in Pompeii Italy. His son Charles took over the business. Charles later changed both the company name and the name of the automobile they made to Jeffery in 1914. The Jeffery automobile was manufactured for another three years from 1914 to 1917, and the company remained one of the largest in the industry.

Advertising image of a Jeffery automobile Chrysler ArchivesAdvertising image of a Jeffery automobile (Chrysler Archives)

In 1917, Charles W. Nash resigned as president of General Motors to purchase the Jeffery automobile company. The company continued as Nash until it merged with Kelvinator in 1937.

A 1916 ad for Jeffery pleasure cars Chrysler ArchivesA 1916 ad for Jeffery pleasure cars (Chrysler Archives)

In conclusion, Thomas B. Jeffery was a great pioneer and leader that helped build the auto industry during the early part of the 20th century. From the manufacturing of bicycles to the shape of new automobiles, he was a well-known and respected engineer. For more information on this automotive pioneer, read the book “Kenosha’s Jeffery & Rambler Automobiles” by Patrick Foster. It is a great book.

Bibliography

Kimes, Beverly Rae & Clark Jr., Henry Austin. “Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942.” Krause Publications, 1989.

The American Motors Family Album First Edition. February, 1969.

Donnelly, Jim. “Thomas B. Jeffery” Hemmings Classic Car. February, 2007.

Foster, Patrick. “Kenosha’s Jefferey & Rambler Automobiles.” Arcadia Publishing. April, 2018.