Zimmerman Manufacturing Co.
The Zimmerman Family is an integral part of early Auburn and DeKalb County industrial history. Their industrial pursuits spanned more than sixty-five years and included
the operation of saw and planing mills and the manufacture of barrels, shingles, furniture, windmills, tanks, buggies and automobiles.
The family patriarch, John Zimmerman, was a native of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. He and his family migrated to Ashland County, Ohio, in 1831 and then on to DeKalb
County, Indiana, in 1844. The family settled about two miles west of Spencerville. Although he was principally engaged in farming, John Zimmerman also operated a
sawmill in the Spencerville area for many years.
John's son, Elias, was born in Fayette County,Pennsylvania, in 1829. Elias operated his father's sawmill for sometime and then successively operated barrel, stove, and shingle mills in the Spencerville area. In 1875 he sold his other interests and joined his son, Franklin T. Zimmerman, in the Zimmerman Company in Auburn. This firm had been established in 1873 by Franklin T. Zimmerman and a partner named Watson. The following year Watson withdrew from the firm and sold his interest to Franklin T. Zimmerman's brother, George B. Zimmerman. It was George's interest that Elias purchased in 1875. The firm had originally been formed to manufacture building materials. From an early date, however, they made church furniture. In 1882, they began manufacturing windmills and tanks. This phase was continued until 1908 when the line was sold to the Celina Manufacturing Company, Celina, Ohio, under the trade name "Monarch."
In 1886, the business was incorporated under the name "Zimmerman Manufacturing Company." The first officers were John W. Baxter, President; Elias Zimmerman, Secretary; Albert Robbins, Treasurer; and Franklin T. Zimmerman, General Manager. In 1890, the company began manufacturing buggies for local sale. This part of the business soon became the most important. For many years the company produced more than two thousand five hundred buggies annually. Many different types and styles of buggies were made.
By the first decade of the present century, Auburn had become a highly industrialized community. Its most important product was buggies and its principal companies
were Eckhart, Kiblinger, and Zimmerman.
With the advent of the automobile, it was only natural that buggy manufacturers would try their hand at building an automobile. The Eckharts had begun experimenting with
an automobile in 1900 and began manufacturing the Auburn in 1903.
The Zimmerman Manufacturing company plant was located in the 400 block of North Indiana Avenue in the same building which, after the demise of Zimmerman, was to be occupied for many years by the Auburn Wholesale Hardware. The original building measured sixty by eighty feet in size. The size was more than doubled after 1907 when the first Zimmerman car was produced.
Entry into the automotive field was not difficult. The basic chassis and other components were at hand from the buggy line. Engines, running gear, and other necessary
items were readily available from other manufacturers. In Auburn, engines were made by the Model Gas Engine Works and sold to the local automobile companies. In essence, the early manufacture of automobiles was a means of marketing more buggies. The 1909 advertisement picturing the Zimmerman buggy and automobile together shows that the early Zimmerman buggy and automobile was truly just a "horselessÂ” carriage!"
The industry was highly competitive, however, and the automobile rapidly became more sophisticated. After the initial two cylinder models, Zimmerman successfully built
four and six cylinder models. The 1914 model line included both four and six cylinder cars and prices ranged from sixteen hundred to twenty-three hundred dollars. By 1914, the company occupied the main plant which was two hundred eighty by sixty feet plus three other smaller three-story buildings. Total floor space was about seventy-five thousand square feet.
In 1915, the company sold a car under the name Â“DeSota.Â” This car was apparently a six cylinder Zimmerman with a different nameplate. There were very few made and it
is believed that there are now none existent. The Desota had no connection with the Chrysler-built Â“DeSoto,Â” although it is reputed that Chrysler paid a royalty for the use of the similar name.
In 1908, the officers of the company were Elias Zimmerman, President; Franklin T. Zimmerman, Vice President and General Manager; and John Zimmerman, Secretary-Treasurer. The latter was a son of Elias and brother of Franklin T. Between 1910 and 1914 the Company was dealt two heavy blows with the deaths of Franklin T. and Elias. Franklin T. died in 1910 and Elias died in 1914 at the age of eighty-five. After the death of Elias the Zimmerman buggy business was combined with the Eckhart Carriage Company.
John Zimmerman continued the automobile business until the latter part of 1915. The automobile business was then discontinued and John joined the Auburn Automobile
Company. He remained with this company in various capacities until it was discontinued in 1940. He later moved to New York City.
The Elias Zimmerman home was located at 303 West Fifth Street, the Franklin T. Zimmerman home at 304 West Fifth Street, and the John Zimmerman home at 402 North Van Buren Street. The Franklin T. Zimmerman home is now owned by Mrs. H. M. Kirkpatrick. A close examination of the front steps of the home will reveal the name Â“ZIMMERMANÂ” stamped into the concrete. Being originally engaged in wood related businesses, the Zimmermans all included beautiful woodwork in their homes.
Although the Zimmerman name has regrettably been almost forgotten in Auburn, it is the keystone of one of the outstanding automobile museums in the world. The museum is Â“AutomobiloramaÂ” at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and its owner is Eugene W. (Gene) Zimmerman. Gene Zimmerman discovered that the John Zimmerman who left Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in 1831, was related to his ancestors.
Mr. Zimmerman operates three Holiday Motor Hotels in the Harrisburg area. Automobilorama is in conjunction with Holiday West and is housed in an ultra-modern, three
story building with eighty thousand square feet of floor space including a complete restoration shop. There are over three hundred and fifty automobiles on display.
Automobilorama is the story of history on wheels. Its exhibits trace the evolution of the automobile from the Conestoga Wagon, buggies, carriages, bicycles and
motorcycles - along with steam, electric, and gasoline cars to our luxury automobiles of today.
19th Annual Aburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival Official Souvenir Book, Labor Day Weekend 1974, Auburn, Indiana, which was also the Grand Opening of the
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. pp. 54 & 55