Hidden History: Willoughby Autos, Part 1

Company Transitioned from Horse-Drawn Carriages to Horseless Carriages

UTICA - The story of the Willoughby Company of Utica actually begins in Rome.

Near the end of the 19th century, R.M. Bingham & Company was one of the top carriage-makers in the Northeast. However, in 1891, Central New York was stunned by the unexpected failure of the Bingham carriage business and the private bank in Oneida that was heavily involved with Bingham's operation.

Several years later, the company was reorganized under the direction of R.M. Bingham's son-in-law, Edward Willoughby. It did well until March 1897, when a fire struck the Rome plant and destroyed a block's worth of buildings.

Within a month, the Utica Chamber of Commerce approached Edward Willoughby about moving his operation to Utica and taking over the Utica Carriage Company, which was in financial trouble. Willoughby moved into the Utica Carriage factory at Turner Street and Dwyer Avenue.

The Willoughby Company produced sleighs, buggies and carriages of good quality, but in 1899, it got an order that set it on a new path. The Electric Vehicle Company of New York City ordered 135 carriage bodies for its automobiles.

Willoughby Carriage was now in the car business and would remain in it for 40 years.

Next week: Willoughby leads the way in luxury cars.

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