Henry H. Babcock & The Babcock Company


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Henry H. Babcock
Henry H. Babcock was from Hamilton, New York where he was born in 1821. In 1845 Babcock founded a company which manufactured wooden pumps and waterpipes and other associated pumping, later they expanded to windmills which became very popular and well-known throughout the US.

Before it became a city in 1869 he was one of the last presidents of the "village" of Watertown and also served as a member of the board of supervisors for several terms. He also was a banker and a lawyer and was closely associated with the Watertown National Bank (now Key Bank) and the House of the Good Samaritan (these latter may refer to the later Henry H. Babcock - need more info).

babcock_early_pic.jpgWhen the manufacture of carriages became a lucrative venture in Watertown and the country, they abandoned the making of pumps, waterpipes, and windmills to make carriages exclusively in the 1870's. A new factory was built at the site of a papermill and machine shop and some other smaller businesses. Roswell Flower and Anson Flower both were on the board of trustees of this new company, and Babcock and his son became partners in it. At the height of production 10,000 carriages were being made during one year and sold all over the country. The carriage company became one of the largest in the country.

In the 1890's the company bought up Watertown Spring Wagon Company, and then in 1909 the Watertown Carriage Company. In 1900 Henry Babcock's wife, Eliza (Wheeler) died and in 1903 Henry Babcock passed away in New York City.

His sons continued the business, George Babcock becoming the next president and then later Henry's grandson and namesake Henry H. Babcock.
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Babcock Model "30"

From around 1908 to 1914 the company began making bodies for motorcars and trolleys, as well as their own motorcars. Their cars of the earlier years were basically horse carriages with engines but in 1910 they started building what would be considered a true motor car. They also established a showroom and sales office on Broadway in New York City and the cars were sold up and down the East Coast. In 1910 one of their cars, the popular Model "30"; was $3200 - much more then most middle-class US citizens could afford.

The engines and transmissions, as well as some other mechanical parts, were bought from other manufacturers; a common practice at the time. The company continued to manufacture bodies for other companies including the Dodge Brothers, and for Model T frames and also for the Olds, White, and GMC chassis. The bodies were of steel construction, instead of wood like many manufacturers.

Around 1913 Henry Ford started mass producing cars on the assembly line and the Babcock Company concentrated more on making car bodies for other manufacturers. During World War I the company devoted the factory to making ambulance bodies and stretchers for the military. The US War Department declared the ambulance bodies the best and they were used exclusively on the front lines. After the war the ambulances and funeral cars sold quite well based on this prior reputation, and they created some enclosed and other special car and truck bodies. The company also formed a division that specialized in upholstering and painting and trimming of car bodies.

But two large fires, one in 1920 and one in 1921, devastating the factory. After that they had to cut back and split their company to specialize, expanding the kind of bodies they built. By 1924 the company was expanding again but by 1925 the manufacture of auto bodies took a turn for the worse with the large manufacturers of the Midwest becoming the major car makers in the US. The contracts were no longer forthcoming and the company began to sink into debt.

In 1928 the factory was completely closed, and many of the manufacturing rights and equipment were sold to the Arcadia Truck Body Company of Newark, N.Y. The remaining inventory and property was sold to a junk dealer in Syracuse.

Most of the factory building was demolished in 1979 but one of the previous Babcock Building's still stands.

At the Jefferson County Historical Society a fully restored Babcock Model "30" is on display.


See Also

Watertown Spring Wagon, Babcock Building (more pictures)
The Babcock Automobile & H.H. Babcock Company