The Birth of Cushman Motors
Charles "Uncle Charlie" Ammon was born in Raleigh, Illinois in 1887. At age 27, he brought his young wife, Emma, to David City. He entered the hardware business with his father. They also established the Easy Manufacturing Company and around 1914, began making a unique machine designed to push pipe undergrounda decided improvement over digging trenches to install water lines.
In 1923 the Ammon's acquired the Yale & Hopewell Company in Lincoln to expand their manufacturing operations. The Ammons moved their entire manufacturing operation to the Lincoln plant, just down the street from the Cushman Motor Works, whose foundry had been a major supplier of castings for Yale & Hopewell.
The onset of the Great Depression allowed Easy Manufacturing to acquire Cushman at a bargain. They adopted the Cushman name for their engines to capitalize on the Cushman reputation for quality.
Easy Manufacturing Company, 1932. The boy in the center of the photograph is Robert Ammon.
His father, Charles Ammon, is second on his left. Wayne Cooper is standing to the left of Charles Ammon.
The Scooter is Born
About 1935, Cushman bid on supplying scooter engines to the California-based Motorglide Two-Wheel Scooter Company. Although Cushman lost the bid, "Uncle Charlie" concluded there must be a market for scooters and that Cushman should be part of it.
By October 1936, the first Cushman scooter prototype was ready and production got underway.
"I built the first one. It wasn't really designed-it just happened." --Bob Ammon
The first scooter manufactured by the company,
Model R-1, 1936.
Gov. Dwight Griswold on a prototype scooter in front of the Nebraska State Capitol, ca. 1936
Charles Ammon shortly before his death in 1950.
The Early Scooters' Sales Pitch
"AUTO-GLIDES * FOR BUSINESS *
SCHOOL AND PLEASURE * EASY
TO OPERATE * EASY TO PARK *
LOW SPEED INSURES SAFETY"
Varieties of uses for the scooters were quickly found. A Latsch Brothers delivery scooter, an Auto-glide Package-Kar Model 29, the oldest 3-wheel chassis, 1939.
Auto-Glide Package-Kar, Model 29, the first production chassis vehicle, 1939
The Cushman Auto Glide, 1939.
Expanding the Market
With the addition of the optional "Kari-Pac," an Auto-Glide became a small delivery wagon that could hold up to 100 pounds. Another optional hook on the rear frame made it possible to hook the Auto-Glide over the bumper of a car so it could be towed on its front wheel.
"Just the thing to take to camp this summer."
The Auto-Glide Scooter with the Kari-Pac, 1937.
Auto-Glide promotional flyer, 1937.
In its nearly thirty-year scooter production run, the company produced several hundred thousand of the small, two-wheel Eagles, including the All-State Highlander model for Sears Roebuck & Company. In their heyday, scooters accounted for 80 percent of Cushman's production.
The zippy little vehicles were also made for Shriners' groups, who became famous for riding them in parades. By the mid-1950s, an embellished version of the Cushman Eagle had become the standard for many Shrine Temple Cushman Motor Corps throughout the United States and Canada.
Dean Cooper, Lincoln Sesostris Shrine
Temple Motor Corps, 1960s
The Lincoln Sesostris Shrine Temple Motor Corps
in Omaha, 1967
World War II
While the little Cushman scooters found a ready civilian market in the late 1930s, it was during World War II that the company's name and products spread around the world. More than 15,000 of its two- and three-wheeled vehicles were produced for all branches of the armed forces, used in camps, bases and ports worldwide. The Airborne Scotters had a parachute hook built into the machine. The Airborne was heavier than a regular Cushman scooter, with bigger gears in the transmission and made of heavy iron, solidly welded together. The vehicle was built strongly enough to withstand damage if the parachute didn't open. The machine might be bent, but it would still be drivable.
The company also was one of the three largest producers of bomb nose fuses during World War II, making more than 8.5 million of them during the war and winning Army and Navy "E" awards for outstanding quality and quantity.
Cushman Airborne ad, note the illustration of the Airbornes in the air.
"E" celebration program
Following World War II, Company President Charles Ammon started a company union, in an apparent attempt to block worker support for outside union representation.
The Cushman plant was unionized in 1946, part of a comprehensive organizing effort by the Lincoln Central Labor Union. On May 23, 1946 Cushman factory workers chose the UAW-AFL to represent them. The first one-year contract was signed Nov. 14, 1946.
[In 1941,] I was single, so we got 30 cents an hour, If you were married, you got 35 cents an hour....No holidays, no paid vacation, no medical....Normal work week was about 45 hours. There was no overtime. --Charles Palmer
Union contract booklet showing AFL-CIO affiliation, 1956
Until the late 1940s, the plant was set up as a job-shop. But after Robert Ammon became president, the plant converted to a small-scale assembly line modeled on Detroit's auto manufacturing principles. Ammon told Business Week magazine in 1950 that he liked to think of Cushman as the General Motors of scooter production.
The Next Generation of Ammons
In 1947, day-to-day control of the company passed from Charles Ammon to his sons, Robert, who became president, and William, who served as vice president. After Charles Ammon died in 1950, the sons became co-owners, retaining their respective positions.
Robert Ammon, 1950s
William Ammon, 1950s
After the Korean War, when defense contracts ended, product modifications on the two- and three-wheeled scooters were designed to appeal to both recreational and industrial consumers. In the mid 1950s, the company introduced the first electric-powered, three-wheeled industrial vehicles. A golf cart version-which the company always called "golf cars"-was later to become Cushman's signature product through the 1960s.
In 1957, the federal Post Office Department awarded Cushman a contract to produce 1,500 modified Trucksters, three-wheeled utility vehicles to be known as Mailsters.
It was the same unit as the police department had to mark tires. On they [the postal vehicles] had a blue and a white strip that went around them. It made it look like a mailbox. --Jerry Tucker
Cushman Mailster on a 780 Truckster
U.S. Assistant Postmaster General E. G. Siedle (right)
with Robert Ammon, inspecting a Mailster. 1959.
The End of Ammon Ownership
The little, all-purpose utility vehicle and the increasingly popular golf carts would have many incarnations in the coming decade. But within months of signing the contract to build Mailsters, the Ammon brothers sold the Cushman Corporation, now more than a half-century old, to the Outboard Marine Corporation of Waukeegan, Illinois. In a stock trade valued at $3 million, the homegrown engine manufacturer that was transformed from a struggling maker of windmills and farm engines into vehicle-maker with a worldwide reputation, became a subsidiary of a firm best-known for marine products.
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