Revisiting the 1923 Maxwell
Q: Hi Greg! I drove a 1923 Maxwell to school my junior and senior years, from 1945 to 1946. I still don’t know anything about the car’s history, or other info on the Maxwell automobiles (I do not have a computer).
I would really appreciate an article by you on the history of this car. I am enclosing a photo of my 1923 Maxwell, which was my first car. I lost track of the car after I joined the Navy right out of high school in 1946. I really enjoy your articles so please keep up your interesting automobile columns. Sincerely, John H. Summers, WWII veteran, Canton, Ohio.
A: John, thank you so much for your kind words and for your service to our country in WWII. It’s the hand written letters like yours that make my day, and I’ll be happy to explain some Maxwell automobile facts.
Maxwell was founded in 1904 by two of the big name auto pioneers of the day, namely Benjamin Briscoe and Jonathan Maxwell. Maxwell had been employed by Oldsmobile and had a good foundation of what a car should be. Briscoe, meanwhile, brought his “Briscoe Brothers Metalworks” expertise to the table, along with lots of cash to invest.
Operating out of Tarrytown, NY, Briscoe used car designs produced by Maxwell resulting in the original Maxwell-Briscoe autos. The Maxwell was positioned to attract middle class consumers and, not surprisingly, was an immediate hit.
After a plant fire, Maxwell construction moved from Tarrytown to a huge new assembly plant located in New Castle, Indiana, in 1907. As the car’s popularity grew, Briscoe needed more showrooms to carry his car and, in an attempt to attract more dealers, he formed what would become known as a “new car company co-op,” called the United States Motor Company. Involved were Maxwell, Stoddard-Dayton, Columbia Car Company, Courier Car Co., Brush Motor Car Company, Alden Sampson Trucks, Gray Marine, and Providence Engineering Works. With this move, Briscoe could offer dealers makes from numerous companies, and better compete with Ford and GM.
History points to Briscoe trying to do everything possible to compete with Billy Durant, the head of GM. It is the main reason he put so much of his own money up and then extended the company financially via much bank underwriting.
Early on, the Maxwell line of vehicles was profitable, but the other co-op companies were floundering. In 1913, Briscoe’s United States Motor Company had dwindled to just two car manufacturers, namely Maxwell and the Brush Motor Company. Eventually, Maxwell was the only co-op survivor, and things quickly went sour with the banks. The result was insolvency, followed by a swift ousting of Briscoe as head honcho.
Maxwell’s assets were then purchased from the banks by Walter Flanders, who reorganized the company later in 1913 as the Maxwell Motor Company, Inc.
Flanders moved Maxwell to Detroit, Michigan, while some Maxwells were also built at smaller assembly lines in Dayton, Ohio.
Notable is that through all the corporate and financial turmoil, Maxwell automobiles were still a fine and respected automobile, selling upwards of 60,000 cars in 1914. These fine results were similar to Ford and Buick, the latter GM’s first ever nameplate and the top two sellers.
Even with huge success at the showroom, Maxwell again over-extended financially under the new ownership and found itself in a major debt problem with the WWI recession just around the corner in 1920.
The following year, 1921, Walter P. Chrysler stepped up and bought controlling interest in Maxwell, where he re-incorporated Maxwell Motors in West Virginia.
In 1925, Chrysler formed his “new” company, officially the Chrysler Corporation, and phased out the Maxwell line. The Maxwell tooling, however, would continue to live-on as a lower-priced line of four-cylinder Chryslers introduced in 1926. This car would then evolve into the first ever Plymouth in 1928.
Hope this all helps, John, and have a great day.
(Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now, BestRide.com and other Gatehouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia and old-time motorsports at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).