Racine's Automobile Manufacturers
When you think of American automobile makers, Detroit is probably the first city that comes to mind. There was a time, however, when Racine was considered a formidable automobile manufacturing center. In fact, one of the world's first automobiles was made here back in 1873, when Rev. John W. Carhart built a crude steam-powered vehicle that he drove on the streets of Racine.

Around the turn of the last century, automobile manufacturing mushroomed in cities throughout the country as the horseless age began, and Racine was no exception. Before long, automobiles with the "made in Racine" designation began to appear on the market. Some of the names may not sound familiar, but they all left their mark on Racine's rich industrial history.

One of the earliest automakers was the Pierce Engine Company. This firm first made gasoline engines, but began building the Pierce-Racine automobile in 1904. The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. bought the company in 1910 to add automobiles to its extensive line of farm machinery and continued building cars under the Case marque until 1927.

The Maibohm Motors Company began making a small, two-seater automobile in 1916. Three years later, its plant burned down and the company moved to Ohio.

The Piggins brothers, Charles and Fred, made an automobile for just one year in 1909, but turned instead to commercial truck manufacturing in 1911. The company operated until 1916.

Another automobile made in Racine from 1914 to 1916 was the L.P.C., named after the company founders: Lewis, Petard, and Cram. They were known for developing the first electric gear shift.

​Perhaps the largest and best-known Racine automobile manufacturer was the Mitchell Motor Co. Production of the famous Mitchells began in 1903 by the Wisconsin Wheel Works, manufacturers of bicycles and motorcycles. In 1910, the company merged with the Mitchell-Lewis Wagon Co. to form the Mitchell-Lewis Motor Co.

Mitchell automobiles proved to be very reliable. The company's use of assembly-line techniques, innovative mechanical improvements, and extensive sales promotion helped grow the company into a leader in the automotive industry. By 1914, Mitchell's two Racine plants covered over 30 acres and employment reached several thousand people.

In 1915, Cadillac came out with a V-8 engine, and Mitchell soon followed suit. Unfortunately, problems with the cooling and lubrication systems emerged, forcing Mitchell to drop the V-8 option by 1917. The company's reputation was damaged and sales dropped drastically. Sales continued to slump, until the company was forced into bankruptcy in 1923.

Nash Motors of Kenosha bought the defunct Mitchell plant, and produced its Nash, Ajax and Lafayette models there until 1938, the last cars to be made in Racine. With the exception of a few old buildings, very little remains locally to tell of Racine's glory years as an automobile manufacturing center.

Preservation Racine deeply appreciates Jim’s generosity in sharing his collections with our tour guests at the St. Luke’s St. Barnabas Chapel, and his efforts to preserve Racine’s history.