Lost City: The Automobile Makers

These buggy manufacturers went horseless, but still couldn’t survive tough blows.

Illustration by Robert Freeson

This is the tale of two unremarkable brick buildings located less than 150 barren yards apart on Gest Street in Lower Price Hill. One stores auto parts. The other is vacant and shuttered. Neither hints at its historical significance: More than 100 years ago, they were the heart of a Cincinnati automobile manufacturing industry, which, if not for a flood and a bullet, might have grown to rival Detroit.

In 1908 and 1909, scores of carriage companies across the country—including about a dozen in Cincinnati, such as Schacht, Armleder, and Jewell—switched to making horseless carriages. Two of Cincinnati’s biggest buggy makers, Haberer and Enger, had just built neighboring factories on Gest Street and were making quality cars.

Haberer dubbed its four-cylinder roadster Cino (short for Cincinnati, Ohio) and gave it the speed and power to climb the region’s hillsides. Cino entered distance and track races, winning 32 cups in 44 competitions in 1911.

Frank Enger had a broader vision. He shipped touring, runabout, and roadster models as far away as Australia and sold company stock in 1916 to finance the rapid growth and riches he envisioned.

Cino, whose salesmen included Powel Crosley and part-time Reds catcher Emil Haberer, abandoned its roadster line in 1912, foreshadowing a disaster to come: The Ohio River flood of 1913 wiped out the Cino factory, and Haberer fell back on making bodies for Ford’s iconic Model T.

Enger, however, forged ahead. Wall Street was bullish on his 12-cylinder Twin Six. But then the carmaker learned he had cancer, and on January 4, 1917, a self-inflicted bullet to the head ended Enger’s life—and his company.

For our February 2017 “Lost City” issue, we remember what time, disasters, and the wrecking ball have taken away.

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