Harry Mulford Jewett was born in Elmira, N.Y., on August 14, 1870, received a C.E. degree from Notre Dame in 1890, and began an active career as a civil engineer with Chicago Drainage Canal, later to Michigan Central Rail Road as an assistant engineer based in Detroit. Jewett entered coal mining with the WP Rend Coal Co. in Chicago and went into the mining business for himself in 1903, assisting in the organization of Jewett, Bigelow & Brooks, miners and wholesale dealers in coal out of West Virginia. He served as president of Big Sandy Coal and Coke Co., J.B.B. Colleries Co., Twin Branch and Mining Co., Maher Coal and Coke Co., and was a member of the Appalachian Engineers Society.
Jewett made a fortune in mining, giving him the funds and enough wealthy business associates to purchase a fledgling car company in 1909 started by Frederick O. Paige, who was promoting a roadster with a unique (for automobiles) two-stroke, three-cylinder 25hp engine designed by Andrew Bachle. Impressed with the little 90-inch wheelbase roadster during a test drive, and with confidence in Paige as a former president of the Reliance Motor Car Company until General Motors purchased it, Jewett gave the reins to Paige to head the newly formed Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, with Willis Buhl as vice president, Wm. B. Cady as secretary and Gilbert W. Lee as treasurer. The factory was housed in the old Stearns laboratory building on 21st Street in Detroit, and, according to The Horseless Age, October 6, 1909, the runabout was priced at $800 (including side lamps, but headlights and top were $75 extra) with the first Paige-Detroits delivered by the first of December.
From the company’s beginnings, Jewett insisted that the car be built with high standards and reliability. When Paige failed to deliver a reliable, well-built automobile to customers, Jewett took over the company in 1910, temporarily closed its doors, changed the name to Paige, and went on to build a great reputation with conventional four- (until 1916) and six-cylinder automobiles.
In 1912, it was the first popular-priced car to adopt a self-starter, a Gray & Davis unit similar to the Delco unit that was introduced on Cadillac that same year. Paige was also the first in its class to use a cork-insert, multiple-disc clutch enclosed in the flywheel and running in oil. With its state-of-the-art factory trebled in capacity, production doubled and tripled, and they were still struggling to keep up with demand. A six-cylinder model was added in 1915, with the four-cylinder car dropped one year later.
Automobile production increased considerably throughout the teens, as Paige became a leader of popular-priced vehicles. Paige was definitely on the road to success with Jewett at the helm. Just as the Duesenberg brothers knew, Jewett also knew that the best way to gain publicity and acceptance was by participating in performance competitions. By 1920, 16,000 cars were leaving the factory on a yearly basis. Paige continued to perform on and off the streets. From 1920–1923, its cars were winning hill-climbs at Uniontown Mountain (Pa.), Lookout Mountain (Tenn.), Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, Memphis and elsewhere. Advertising suggested that the car could take most hills in high gear. A 1921 Paige “Six-66,” a highly acclaimed model with a superbly machined 66hp Continental engine, climbed to the summit of Pike’s Peak without difficulty.
Paige cars were among the quietest and easiest shifting vehicles in the industry. Paige began offering two completely different engines for its cars in 1921, whereas before, the different models shared the same basic engine but used different wheelbases to establish its medium- and high-priced automobiles.
The “Six-44” was powered by a 50 hp engine and rode on a 119-inch wheelbase chassis while the bigger “Six-66” was powered by a 66hp engine and rode on a 131-inch wheelbase. The Six-66 was priced from $2,795 to $3,750 and the Six-44 was priced from $1,770 to $2,245, pretty steep prices during a time of economic recovery, so a third model (actually an entirely new model line altogether) was added that year. This companion car was priced at around $1,100 and named after Harry Jewett.
Features of the new Jewett included its 112-inch wheelbase, a 50 hp six-cylinder engine, drum-type headlights and nickel trim. The initial offering was a five-passenger touring car, with a five-passenger sedan added in April. This was an era when closed cars brought a premium compared to open cars, and the Jewett was no exception. The sedan was priced $300 more than the simple touring car. By 1923, further additions to the lineup included a four-passenger coupe and a roadster, with prices on the open car dropping to less than $1,000 and the closed cars climbed to $1,445 for the coupe and $1,465 for the sedan.
In addition, a two-door five-passenger Brougham was added to the lineup and included a built-in trunk as standard equipment. Predating Nash by more than two decades, Jewett’s sales catalog mentioned the car’s easy adaptability for sleeping purposes, which detailed how the rear seat back could be rearranged with the other cushions to make a bed for two.
While Jewetts weren’t considered to have super good looks, they were conservatively handsome and became an instant success. They outsold Paige models by more than two to one in the beginning, and even with prices three times higher than a Ford Model T it was still considered an excellent buy in its class, which included Hudson’s Essex, Studebaker’s Erskine (1924) and even Pontiac (1926). Because of its success, the smaller Paige was dropped in 1923 and the high-end model, now the Six-70, became even more powerful with an increase to 70hp in 1923 and 75hp in 1924. A new plant was built to produce the Jewett, and prices inched up. With the addition of three “Special” models in 1924, including a coupe, sedan and touring (all finished in Japanese Blue), closed cars went well past the $1,500 mark. Specials were nicely appointed with a nickel-plated radiator shell and headlamps, double bumpers front and rear, a Motometer, and windshield wipers, giving Jewett buyers the amenities of a Paige for less than half the price.
Paige-Detroit was among the first 10 automobile companies in the country to produce 30,000 to 40,000 units per year in various models. With the help of Jewett’s sales success (more than 100,000 had been produced by 1925), Paige moved into 10th place in the production race. Of course, it didn’t hurt that a high percentage of other companies were going bankrupt and closing during the same period. With even higher prices (pushing toward $1,700 for the Special sedan), overall sales at slightly more than 39,000 in 1925 were better than 1924, but well below 1923’s record of 43,556 cars. Steel wheels and hydraulic four-wheel brakes were available at extra cost. While the company continued to build and offer good cars, the profit margin was quickly moving toward the red.
A less-powerful Jewett “New-Day,” which developed 40hp from the six-cylinder powerplant, was introduced for 1926 and was built upon a wheelbase that was shortened three inches to 109. Meanwhile, Paige continued to offer a more powerful car, but both the horsepower and wheelbases were decreased, with the now 63hp models offered with either 115-inch or 125-inch wheelbases. The new Jewett was available in two body styles, a touring and a five-passenger sedan, with the sedan available in two trim levels. Even with four-wheel hydraulic brakes included as standard equipment, prices dropped back considerably with the sedan offered at $995 while the touring and Deluxe sedan were both available for $1,095, with the extra $100 giving the buyer disc wheels, bumpers, Motometer, and nickel-plated radiator shell.
As the Roaring Twenties saw automobile firms increasing their production, Paige continued to decline. The last Jewett was built in January of 1927, with Paige picking up the slack by basically turning the New-Day Jewetts into its Six-40/Six-45 models, with prices ranging from $1,150 to $1,360 (and with a roadster in the lineup once again). Jewett styling changes were minimal during its short five-year run, with its box-like shape receiving only some minor rounding of its squared edges.
Paige, apparently grasping at straws to keep up with the expanding luxury car market, introduced its Straightaway Eight Series in March of 1927 with prices starting at $2,315 and reaching $2,905. It was a good-looking car, offered in six models, and powered by a Lycoming L-head eight displacing 298.6 cubic inches developing 80hp. Built upon a wheelbase of 131.5 inches, it was also equipped with a Warner Hi-Flex four-speed transmission. Again, according to William Roberts, just 64 were ordered, but it is not known how many of each body style were produced. It is suspected that a great majority of them were four-door sedans.
Harry Jewett realized that the auto industry had become “off-the-shelf” car assemblers, with outsourced suppliers building the major components and controlling most of the price of the automobile, leaving him very little control over the product design and final pricing. On June 10, 1927, with losses amounting to $2.5 million, Jewett sold his company to former truck builders Joseph, Robert and Ray Graham, who sought to get back into the automotive industry. The company was renamed Graham-Paige Motors Corp., which carried on through the 1930s. By September of 1940, when the brothers finally ended its automotive production to concentrate on military vehicles, the company had lost money every year except 1928 and 1933. Joseph Frazer took over the company in 1944 and after WWII built his short-lived Kaiser-Frazers through 1949. Harry M. Jewett died in 1933.
West Peterson is editor of Antique Automobile, the official publication of the Antique Automobile Club of America.