The venerable Milburn Wagon Company added production of electric vehicles in 1915, built in Milburn’s Toledo, Ohio body plant that claimed to be the largest and best equipped in the industry. Initially, sales were brisk – 1,000 vehicles in the first year and 1,500 the next – and grew into a sophisticated range of body styles. These included a coupe, roadster, sedan, town car, brougham and light delivery vehicles. Milburn Light Electric taxis also plied the streets of Chicago and St. Louis. The Milburn Light Electric Brougham emerged as the most successful of these varied models, but the declining popularity of electric cars had already begun with introduction of the electric starter for gasoline engines in 1912. Milburn Light Electrics were the lowest-priced and as much a 1,000 lbs. lighter compared with their competition. Still, early Milburn Electrics were also at a disadvantage, typically requiring a full battery charge every 60 to 75 miles. This was addressed in 1920 with a replacement battery pack on rollers that easily slid in and out of the front of the vehicle making it possible to quickly exchange discharged batteries with a fresh set. The innovation increased the range of Milburn Electrics to 100 miles, comparable even to full-electric cars today! Milburn also found continued success building complete bodies for many major early automobile manufacturers. With a long history in coachwork construction, Milburn Light Electrics were exceptionally well finished inside and out and featured lavish interior fittings and materials. In the nation’s capital, President Woodrow Wilson and his Secret Service detail were to be seen motoring in Milburn Electrics.
Eventually, even Milburn’s successes were not enough. Production carried on until 1923, when the Milburn body plant was purchased by General Motors for production of Buick bodies. Some 4,000 electric vehicles were produced prior to the demise of the Milburn Light Electric while fewer than fifty complete automobiles may still exist today. The Model 27L Light Brougham became the final model offered by Milburn, continuing to be constructed in very limited numbers in the last years. The Milburn Light Electric Brougham was typical of electric vehicles produced for city and town use, driven by professionals, members of society and others whose daily needs were well within the range of an electric. Like similar early electric vehicles, the driver and two additional passengers were accommodated on an opulent divan facing forward. Two upholstered jump seats folded down from the firewall, whose passengers faced the divan as if they were seated in an intimate salon. Controls for the Brougham were simple and efficient, with a pair of horizontal black levers provided for speed and steering. Four speeds were available proceeding forward and two in reverse, and an early form of dynamic braking was also provided by utilizing stored energy to assist the two-wheel mechanical brakes.
This rare and exceptional 1918 Milburn Electric Light Brougham was previously part of a notable Colorado automobile collection and museum. This automobile is an older restoration that has been professionally maintained and is a delight to operate and drive. The body is handsomely finished in understated black with furniture-quality exposed wood on the window headers and surrounds. Exterior trim is limited to the cast metal step plates and polished door handles and lamp surrounds. Tall wire wheels are painted a light color contrasting with the dark body and the taillight is charmingly cast with the letters S T O P molded into the red lens. The wooden framed body is very sound and the older paint presents in good condition, as well as the minimal exterior trim, all present in proper and well-preserved order.
The elegant cabin is dramatically clothed in rich wine-colored materials, including the broadcloth upholstery on the wide pleated seat, jump seats and interior panels. Dark red carpeting covers the floor and extends to lower levels of the doors and seating area to protect the fine fabric. The interior door and window hardware are also finished in sliver, with extraordinary push button-style switches of the type found in vintage homes to turn the interior lamps on and off. Both the windshield and the rear window can be raised and lowered as well as the side windows on fair days, while a coal fired foot heater was originally provided for cold weather. The simple controls consist of an off/run/charge switch and two operating levers. The gauges are simplicity itself compared with early gasoline automobiles, consisting only of a Stewart speedometer and odometer with a reset to record ‘Season’ and ‘Trip’ mileage and a Milburn Ammeter and Volt gauge. In this example, modern Amp and Volt gauges have also been provided for safety of operation. Silent power is produced by a 60 volt General Electric motor and provided to the rear wheels by a drive shaft and differential. Very importantly, the original-style lead acid batteries have been replaced by modern deep charge batteries with a charger incorporated under the hood.
This is a rare opportunity to acquire and enjoy one of the very few complete, running and preserved examples of the exceptional Milburn Light Electric, and a strikingly handsome example at that. The Milburn name pre-dates the auto industry by nearly half a century. Founder George Milburn was the father in law of Clement Studebaker and subcontracted work to help establish Studebaker’s nascent wagon company in the early 1850s. Many of the few surviving Milburn Light Electrics today reside in museums or private collections, while an active Milburn Registry maintains technical and ownership records and facilitates communication. This charming Milburn Light Electric is certainly a significant piece of automotive history, ready for the fortunate next caretaker who will continue to preserve it, drive it and display it generously.
Want to buy vintage cars for your collection? Contact our classic car dealers at Hyman and learn more about our classic car consignment program. We're here to help.