The history of the Knapheide Wagon Co.
"The parallel between the Knapheide Wagon Co. and the wagon industry as a whole is worth noting. The Knapheide Co. started as an association between two skilled workmen, a wagon maker and a blacksmith; with little or no capital, as did practically all of the other firms in the wagon industry. It kept pace with the curve upward of the wagon industry as a whole until 1909 and then followed that curve downward to the depths of despair in 1931. It was one of seventy-five still doing business that year. In other words it rode the crest of a wave and when the bubble burst found itself facing a very dismal future. The wagon industry as a whole both influenced and was influenced by the expansion of population into the Middle West and Far West. Without wagons this expansion would have been virtually impossible because until the middle of the nineteenth century brought the railroad, no other means of transportation existed except the waterways. Even after the coming of the railroads, wagons were absolutely necessary to haul the products of farm and factory either to market direct or to a railroad station. On the other hand the wagon industry was made possible by the expansion of the population. As the latter grew in the Middle and Far West the demand for wagons grew and the industry as a whole expanded, including the company under discussion. The Knapheide Co. was clearly affected by both wars and depressions. The total volume of business was very seriously out down by the depressions of 1873, 1922, and 1929. On the other hand the price of wagons was very definitely raised by the two major wars in which the United States was engaged during the period under discussion: namely the Civil War and World War I. The history of the Knapheide Co. clearly demonstrates the ability of a small corporation to adjust itself to changing conditions. In making the changes which later proved successful, the managers of the firm showed resilience, initiative, and foresight. At each stage when new methods were needed the younger men in managerial positions were able and willing to adopt them. However, it should be clearly pointed out that it was only the strong financial backing of many thousands of dollars which carried the company through the last depression and placed it on the first rung of the ladder of success with a new product -- truck bodies and trailers. The labor policy was consistent throughout the almost one hundred years of the history of this venerable firm. Unions were consistently resisted, but the men were treated fairly and even kindly at times, paid wages as good or better than average, and considered by successive managers of the firm as their friends as well as employees. The parallel between the firm today and ninety-three years ago is interesting. Then it was a new venture with little or no capital, wagons were made only on order and were custom built. Today in 1941 the assets of the firm have been reduced to a minimum, it is practically a new venture, the truck bodies and trailer bodies are virtually all made on order and are practically all custom manufactured. The only exceptions are grain bodies and stock rack bodies. Is the Knapheide Mfg. Co. going to repeat the history of the Knapheide Wagon Co. and ride the crest of a new era in the field of transportation? Only time can tell the answer to that, but the author most sincerely wishes it good fortune."--Conclusion.