Huntington streamlined carriage industry
by Sara L. Redford
Jacob R. Huntington is remembered in Amesbury and throughout the entire industrial world for laying the foundation of the town’s great carriage industry.
One day in 1853 the man who later would be responsible for shaping Amesbury’s business destiny in the nineteenth century, stopped in at the office of a friend for a chat.
During the conversation, Huntington said emphatically, “Bill, within ten years I will make a fortune equal to the biggest in town.”
“Well, Jake,” his friend replied, “you can get it, but there is only one way to get there. If you say, ‘money, money, money’ from early in the morning until late at night and repeat it to yourself while you eat, while you work and while you ought to sleep, you can do it.”
Shortly after that, Jake made a contract with C. H. Palmer of West Amesbury, now Merrimac, to do a paint job for $100. He went to work immediately, but was unable to find a boarding place in the vicinity. So, he walked back and forth to West Amesbury each day, a matter of 10 miles round trip.
After six weeks he succeeded in finishing his job and with $100 in his pocket, he felt it was time for him to strike out on his own. During his daily walks to Merrimac and return, he had had plenty of time to think and his mind was constantly on the future of vehicular transportation.
He had the conviction that all who wanted a carriage should be able to buy it, be he rich or poor. This meant that he would have to build one that would be within the price range of the average worker.
Huntington faced many difficulties as he set out to create his first carriage in a new locality. He had to travel many hundreds of miles before he had accumulated the necessary parts in Amesbury.
There was no one who could do the work for him, but at the end of eight weeks, the first carriage built by Huntington rolled out of the shop, complete in every way. It was similar to the later Concord carriage and was sold to a Mr. Bartlett of Salisbury for $30.
Twenty years later, Huntington said that he saw this vehicle, still running and in fine condition. However, shortly after this, Amesbury’s first carriage was sold and Jake lost track of it.
Up to the time of this Huntington carriage, no one had dared attempt duplication in building them. However, Huntington was firm in his belief that each customer did not necessarily require or even want a style distinct from any other. He felt, too, that more than one carriage built on the same pattern could be disposed of regardless of whether or not it had been ordered in advance. He became more determined than ever to establish just such a “duplicity” business.
When Jake first started out with a thin purse, he had to be the boss, salesman, painter, blacksmith, paymaster, bookkeeper, as well as treasurer, training his men in each of these positions as he went along. He seemed to have an endless supply of energy and never tired although he spent many long hours of the day and night with his project.
In 1858, feeling that it was easier to establish a large business in the west, he moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio. He found a few factories already established in the “Queen City of the West”, but he saw the opportunity of setting up the duplicating system of which he had long dreamed.
Today he is recognized as the father of the business which was carried on so successfully in Cincinnati. The west had no particular call for high-priced, high-grade carriages, unlike Amesbury where the wealth of the east was looking for a vehicle that was a luxury.
At the end of a year in Ohio, his doctor told him that to save the life of his oldest daughter who was critically ill, he must return to the Atlantic seacoast immediately.
So, he sold out all his holdings in Cincinnati and went back to Amesbury. Here he found James Hume to whom he has sold out here, doing a rushing business. Huntington quickly set himself up once more, this time in the machine shop belonging to Enoch Osgood on Elm Street.
Twice during his career Huntington was burned out, once with an $18,000 loss covered by only $2800. The day following the fire, he finished a carriage in a room of the Hamilton Woolen Mill. Later he built a large factory on Carriage Hill where he continued until he sold out to Hume in 1875.
Huntington was able to retire on profits accumulated between the years 1869 and 1875, but under conditions far outstripping those of today. During this same period, many of his men had saved up enough money from their earnings to leave his employ and establish themselves as carriage makers on a small scale. As fast as he discovered that a man had the ability to conduct business independently, he actually forced him out of his shop. [...]
Among those who worked for him and who later were identified with the carriage industry as independent makers were James Hume, A.P. Boardman, E.S. Fletch, A.M. Huntington (his brother), W.G. Ellis, George J. Hunt, Charles Burlingame, T.W. Lane, Osgood Morrill, John Francis, all well known carriage men.
To many, it might seem strange that Huntington would encourage some of his men to become his competitors. However, he knew that the industry must spread out in order to prosper. Soon, competition began to liven up the town and brought new carriage buyers to the community daily.
Simple courtesy among the business rivals did a great deal to create a good feeling and much to lessen the jealousy and ill will. All this helped to build up peacefully the carriage business which made Amesbury almost synonymous with the word “carriage”.
The conception and the system of building a thousand carriages or more, exactly alike and all costing the same, stand to the credit of Huntington. His western friends soon caught on to the organizing and systemizing of duplication in producing carriages, and many of them became wealthy.
Huntington, born in Amesbury in 1830, took an active part in civic affairs and for many years was town moderator. In 1868 he was Representative from this district to the Massachusetts Legislature and was sent as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1890.
In 1888, he made a gift to the state of Massachusetts of the large bronze statue of Josiah Bartlett, Amesbury-born signer of the Declaration of Independence. This likeness of Bartlett still stands in Huntington Square near the Public Library.
It has been said that Huntington gave this memorial as a salve to his conscience for having taken a certain stand on the question of temperance, much to the annoyance of many of his fellow-townsmen. We like to think he was urged by the spirit of patriotism and civic pride in helping to perpetuate the memory of an American Revolutionary patriot.
The home of Huntington built in true Victorian splendor at the crest of Patten’s Hill, Main Street, was torn down last October, the victim of unwarranted vandalism and the inability of any local organization to raise funds to restore the home to its original beauty.
[Amesbury News Souvenir, Wednesday, August 14, 1968]