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Brewster & Co

Brewster & Co

The Brewster Carriage Co was started in 1810 by James Brewster. It quickly gained a reputation for fine carriages and by 1827 had branches in New Haven and Bridgeport as well as New York City. Under James? son Henry, the firm won international acclaim at the Paris carriage exhibition in 1878.

When James retired, his son Henry was running the New York branch, which became Brewster & Co. and the younger James Jr. was keeping up the firm everyday. In 1883, Henry's 17 year old son William joined the company and the slogan "Carriage Builder for the American Gentleman" was adopted. In 1905, Brewster also maintained franchises for several European marques, including Delaunay Belleville and Lanchester. This would mark their first venture into automobile body building, and beginning their history of providing coachwork for prestigious autos. By 1911 it had abandoned carriages entirely and moved the workshops from Manhattan to Long Island City, New York.

In 1914, in what would become a long association, Brewster was carefully chosen as sales agents for Rolls-Royce, Ltd. and would be the main body suppliers for Rolls-Royce in the U.S.

From 1915 to 1925, Brewster also built complete automobiles, called the Brewster Knight, recognizable by their oval radiators, patented leather fenders, and featuring the quiet and costly sleeve-valve Knight engine. In addition to Delaunay Belleville, other early chassis to be bodied by Brewster included Renault, Panhard et Levassor and Mercedes.

By 1925, Brewster's car had few sales, trading with Europe had resumed, and Rolls-Royce of America was expanding and gaining bargaining power against Brewster. Executives from Rolls-Royce of America and Brewster met, and decided on the purchase of Brewster & Co. and their debt. Rolls-Royce would have cars fitted with temporary seats and protection, and driven from their Massachusetts plant to the Brewster building in Long Island City to have bodies installed.

After Rolls-Royce of America folded, from 1931 to 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II chassis were shipped directly from Britain to Brewster's large facility in Long Island City by Brewster, as well as by dealers and individuals. By this time in the Great Depression, there was strong sentiment against the wealthy (and the archetypal Brewster-bodied Rolls-Royce) and Brewster was not selling well.

In 1934 employee J.S. Inskip, who had taken control of operations to save Brewster from the Depression, purchased 135 Ford V8 roadster chassis and designed a body for it, which was a hit at the 1934 New York Auto Show. The bodies were worth more than the chassis. These cars were registered as Brewsters (not branded as a Ford) and sold at Rolls-Royce showrooms. Edsel Ford acquired the first shipped example, which was the third Ford Brewster ever built. Inskip marketed the car to New York celebrities, with whom it became popular. The Ford Brewster project was initially profitable, but soon Brewster was taking losses and her bondholders and directors would claim something needed to be done.

On August 18, 1937, the company was sold at public auction. 

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