John William Murray was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1862. By 1903, he was a director of the Michigan Stamping Co., an early sheet metal products manufacturer, which became an early supplier of Model T chassis to Ford. The Michigan Stamping Co. was eventually purchased by Briggs and became a Chrysler body plant. However, John William Murray had resigned from Michigan Stamping in 1913 and along with his son, John R. Murray, formed the J.W. Murray Mfg. Co. to manufacture stamped sheet metal parts for the automobile industry. Their first plant was replaced in 1916 by a much larger one. Amongst Murray's first customers were Ford, Hudson, Hupmobile, King and Studebaker for whom they manufactured stamped fenders and other large sheet metal stampings. Demand was so high that a second plant was established in the Detroit suburb of Ecorse, Michigan. Murray also made tools and dies for various other automakers and competing body fabricators and was known as the 'dean of stamping manufacturers'.
In 1924 the C.R. Wilson Body Co. lost its founder and the J.W. Murray Mfg. Co., C.R. Wilson Body Co., Towson Body Co., and J.C. Widman & Co. would merge, forming the Murray Body Corporation under the leadership of John W. Murray. John W. Murray soon decided to retire and Allan Sheldon, a Detroit banker and businessman, was elected president. Murray's son, James R. Murray, didn't stick around either, and formed his own firm, the Murray Forging and Casting Co., supplying precision-made steel and bronze products for the automobile industry. Murray then baught the H&M Body Corp., Hupmobile's in-house body supplier, at a great discount, providing that Murray would guarantee to supply Hupmobile with all of the production bodies they required over the next five years. Unfortunately the H&M body plant was located too far away to be managed cost effectively and the plant never turned a profit and never produced bodies for anyone other than Hupmobile.
Edsel Ford wanted LeBaron's Raymond H. Dietrich to design bodies exclusively for Lincoln. Edsel Ford would order five to ten examples of a particular design, and if it proved popular, it would be slated for mass production by Murray. In 1924 Edsel Ford instructed Allan Sheldon to discuss bringing LeBaron to the Detroit area to build custom and semi-custom work for Lincoln. Sheldon submitted a proposal to purchase a controlling interest in LeBaron. LeBaron's board of directors refused the initial offer, so Sheldon and Dietrich met again in Detroit, where Dietrich was made an offer he couldn't refuse, namely Dietrich Inc. Ray would own 50% of the firm, and would have his own factory, plus his own staff of designers and draftsmen plus a fat contract from Lincoln. Dietrich resigned from LeBaron, and sold his shares to his longtime partner Ralph Roberts. Dietrich Inc. was given $150,000 in seed money, but it lost close to that in its first year of operation.
Due to the economic recession of 1924-25, the anticipated spring upsurge in sales did not materialize in 1924 leaving dealers with large inventories of unsold cars. Consequently 1925 production was significantly reduced forcing many auto workers to be laid off. The Murray Body Corp. went into receivership on Dec. 4, 1925, a short 8 months after it started. Luckily for Murray, the federal bankruptcy judge appointed Detroit's Guardian Trust Bank as its receiver. Its president, William Robert Wilson, had gotten the firm's investors into trouble and was now given the responsibility to get them out of trouble. Luckily sales rebounded during 1925. By March of 1926 the firm was shipping 14,000 bodies per month, and plans were laid for a reorganization of the firm. Profits for 1926 had been $1.5 million and the firm acquired the Jenks & Muir Co., a Detroit upholsterer as well as negotiating a deal with Marmon to supply them with all of their production bodies, taking over Marmon's Indianapolis body plant. The receivership lasted only a short 13 months, and in January, 1927, a new firm, the Murray Corporation of America was capitalized at $8 million dollars and absorbed the assets of the Murray Body Corp. The new firm's principal customers were now Hupmobile, King, Marmon, Moon and Willys-Knight. Ford was in the midst of re-tooling for the Model A, and within the year would become Murray's largest customer.
Allan Sheldon was replaced by William R. Wilson and Clarence W. Avery moved from Ford to Murray to be Wilson's assistant and within the year became Murray's president. Avery was Ford's chief development engineer and had been responsible for many of Ford's mass production concepts including the moving assembly line. Just before Murray acquired the services of Ray Dietrich, they had hired Wills Ste. Claire's chief designer, Amos Northup. Northup handled the design and body engineering for Murray's core production body business while Dietrich handled the firm's custom work. Northup brought along his young assistant, Julio Andrade, who later became known for his design of the 1934 LaSalle as a member of Harley Earl's General Motors staff.
Prior to 1929, all of Ford's station wagons were produced by independent custom body shops, but Ford decided to provide a factory station wagon for the new Model A. Murray produced 4,954 examples of Ford's Model 150-A Station Wagon in 1929. The following year, A new body style, the 150-B, was introduced and the contract was split between Murray and Baker-Raulang in Cleveland, Ohio. Murray was swamped with other Ford projects so Baker-Raulang built the lion's share of the 6,363 Model 150-B bodies and all the 1932 Ford Model B station wagon bodies. Ford built most of their own production bodies for the Model A, however both Briggs and Murray were their largest outside suppliers of complete bodies, producing all of Ford's Model 155 Town Sedans and Model 165 Sedans. Four Door Model A body style suffix's indicate who made the body. An 'A' indicates a 1928-1929 Murray body, 'B' indicates a 1928-1929 Briggs body, 'C' indicates 1930-1931 (early) Murray body, and 'D' indicates 1930-1931 (early) Budd Mfg. During 1929 Murray supplied bodies, frames and stampings to Ford as well as Chrysler, Dodge, Essex, Hudson, Hupmobile, Peerless and Reo. They were using so much wood, that they purchased their own mill in Memphis, Tennessee.
Unfortunately Dietrich Inc.'s business took a turn for the worse at the beginning of 1929, and when Black Friday rolled around on October, 28th, Dietrich Inc. was in trouble. Dietrich was overruled by Murray's president, Clarence W. Avery, and was forced to resign the presidency of his own firm in 1930. L. Clayton Hill, Murray's assistant sales manager, was put in charge of Dietrich Inc. and most of the firm's skilled craftsmen were let go. Dietrich Inc.'s facility was returned to Ford, and its manufacturing was transferred to surplus space in one of the Murray plants where identical bodies - some bearing the Dietrich badge, and some not - were built for Packard and Chrysler. The Dietrich badge was reserved for Murray's upscale convertible sedans and Victorias.
A former C.R. Wilson employee, James Vehko, became Murray's chief manufacturing engineer in 1931. Vehko is credited with the engineering of the first all-steel body made using a deep-draw die. By that time, Murray's principle customers were Cleveland, Essex, Ford, Hudson, Hupmobile, Graham, Jordan, Marmon, Reo, Studebaker and Willys-Knight.
The Depression finally caught up with Murray in 1931. Automobile production had dropped appreciably, and contracts for new bodies were few. However, the Depression had not yet impacted the luxury car business and during 1932 new orders were received from Lincoln for some Dietrich-badged series customs as well as some standard catalog phaetons and convertible sedans. Likewise Packard ordered some Dietrich-badged series-customs, as well as some standard coupes and sedans. Ford also needed bodies for their new V8, and between 1932 and 1933 Murray furnished them with coupes, convertibles, roadsters and phaetons as well as a panel delivery. Murray had become a specialist in building complex production bodies, which might have put them in a good financial position if they were building expensive custom bodies, unfortunately they were building inexpensive production bodies, and with Ford as their largest customer, large profits just weren't possible. Murray's Ecorse, Michigan frame plant contributed to what few profits were made during the Depression.
Murray built the standard Ford Model A & AA Delivery van bodies and Heavy-Duty Express Bodies. Budd was selected to build the new 1932 Ford closed cabs, while Murray supplied the convertible cab, which was sold in very limited numbers. At that time independent body builders were folding left and right and Murray knew full well if they raised prices on their work for Ford, it would just be turned over to Briggs or Budd. Consequently, many of Murray's complicated bodies were built at a loss, which by 1934 had begun to threaten the firm's very existence. Between 1931 and 1934 Murray Corp. of America lost $4.3 million dollars. To help Murray out of their precarious financial situation, Ford allowed them to use some Ford body dies to produce a series of bodies for Hupmobile during 1934. In the following year Murray was awarded a huge contract to build Ford's 3- and 5-window coupes, and they posted a profit of $1.4 million in 1935. Lincoln also ordered some profitable runs of coupe and sedan bodies although Murray was still building mostly unprofitable body styles for Packard.
By 1935 the bodies originally designed by Ray Dietrich before his departure in 1930 had become outdated, and Murray introduced a new series of semi-custom bodies for Packard and Lincoln that featured Dietrich Inc. badging. However, Ray Dietrich had nothing to do with them, they were merely re-badged Murray production bodies with increased levels of trim and upholstery. These 'faux-Dietrich' bodies were produced through 1937.
Briggs built most of the Chrysler Corporations bodies, but between 1937 and 1939 Murray furnished Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Plymouth models with a convertible sedan body. Following the 1933 strike at Briggs, Ford phased out their outside body builders, including Briggs, who strengthened their ties with Chrysler and Packard as the thirties wore on. Murray suffered another devastating loss in 1938, when sales of new cars lagged far behind industry expectations. In 1936 Ford had purchased only 36% of their outside bodies from Murray, but by 1939 that percentage jumped to 49%. Unfortunately, 1939 was the last year that complete bodies would be built for Ford by Murray. In 1939 Murray supplied bodies to some of the largest and smallest new automakers. Ford Motor Co.'s new mid-priced Mercury appeared that year with Murray-built bodies as did Powell Crosley Jr's new Crosley automobile.
Ford continued to build more and more of its own bodies, and was only purchasing sheet-metal stampings from Briggs, Budd and Murray. The new process saved Ford millions in transportation costs as a stack of identical metal stampings could now be transported in the same space formerly occupied by a single automobile body. Murray now became a supplier of knocked-down bodies and stampings and could no longer be classified as a coachbuilder.
Murray survived World War II thanks to military contracts. By 1944, the plant employed 13,500 workers, most of them women. Aluminum was substituted for steel and Murray produced wings and other components for the Boeing, Douglas and Republic fighters/bombers. Towards the end of the War, Clarence W. Avery instituted a program to get some new business from Ford and Kaiser-Frazer. William J. Flajole was Murray's designer at the time. Avery passed away a couple years later, in 1949. Following the war, Murray resumed to their pre-war activities supplying Ford with sheet metal stampings and an occasional partially completed auto body. Mercury and Ford's limited production Sportsman were assembled at Murray as were the compact unit-bodied Willys Aero and Hudson Jet. Murray even toyed with manufacturing their own V6-powered compact in the early fifties, and even produced a couple of prototypes, but cooler heads prevailed and the project was shelved. Murray's Ecorse, Michigan frame plant was the last Murray plant turning out any automotive products and was sold to the Dana Corp. in September, 1955.
In 1935, Murray started producing non-automotive stamped steel products such as beer barrels and steel kitchen cabinets. In the forties they also purchased the Easy Laundry Appliance Co. from the Hupp Corp., reorganizing it as the Easy Washing Machine Corp.