The Birmingham Automobile Of Jamestown

The late Walt Seeley and his wife donated a painting of the Birmingham automobile that was once planned to be made locally. The painting hung in the corporate office in the venerable Humphrey House hotel on South Main Street, Brooklyn Square. The identity of the artist is not known.

The idea for the Birmingham is credited to Cyrus F. Weaver who combined the radically innovative suspension from a 1915 Cornelian auto with the toughness of heat-treated vanadium chrome nickel alloy steel springs. This allowed him to design a car that could safely and consistently travel more than 30 miles per hour along a demonstration course of spaced logs. This was a dramatic publicity stunt but also very much a relevant consideration for car buyers in that era of very bad roads.

Weaver teamed up with George B. Mechem, an experienced but sometimes dishonest stock promoter. The company was organized as a trust Oct. 19, 1920. Soon thereafter, Mayor Samuel A. Carlson took the position of company president because he was confident Birmingham would make Jamestown into a perhaps smaller version of Detroit. Carlson refused the position’s $25,000 salary and worked gratis. Numerous other well-known and well-regarded people were enlisted in the company’s engineering and legal departments at about this same time.

Consider the audacious log demonstration which carried a $10,000 challenge that no other auto maker ever claimed and the fact that the Birmingham was little more than half the weight of any other car its size, and it is obvious why the car had enormous promise. Plans for a Jamestown factory were thwarted, but the company located in Lyndon Park just south of the Falconer village line.

There Birmingham planned to construct a 250-by-500 foot factory and projected production of 5,000 cars in 1923. However, numerous businessmen in Jamestown feared the potential wage competition and Carlson’s political enemies were constantly on alert for opportunities, legitimate or not, to bring him down. From the start they circulated rumors designed to spook stockholders and dampen stock sales. On Aug. 8, 1922, news emerged of a potential federal indictment of 18 company officers, including Carlson, on charges of mail fraud. All were eventually cleared. In the meantime, the shady Mechem terminated his connection to the company.

According to Seeley’s 1974 article in Antique Automobile magazine, the company officers organized a stock sales meeting in Kane, Pa., where interest in the Birmingham was second only to the interest in Jamestown.

Apparently the enemies of the company had planted an agent provocateur in the crowd. He stood up and announced he had just come from Jamestown to bring news the company was bankrupt and the stock worthless.

In the resulting uproar, so alleged Seeley, the stock salesman was stabbed to death and the company representative jumped through a plate glass window and ran for his life. Walt attributed this story to an interview of an unnamed former employee. No such incident is reported in either Kane or Jamestown newspapers so it is probably apocryphal.

Approximately 50 Birminghams were assembled, a few in other cities. Of the parts, only the radiators (Jamestown Car Parts Company), and a few small parts from Salisbury Axel (the firm that had made the Duquesne auto two decades earlier), were Jamestown made. No example of a Birmingham is known to exist.