Republic Motor Cars: “Classiest of All”

By Richard O Jones

Every year in July for more than 60 years, hundreds of antique and classic cars parade through the streets of Hamilton and Fairfield to give nostalgia fans a glimpse of life in days gone by.

072713republicauto03But one make and model has been conspicuously absent all these years, even though it is significant to the history of the area: The Republic, which was manufactured in Hamilton from 1909 to 1914.

No Republic has ever been in the Annual Antique and Classic Car Parade because as far as anyone knows, no specimen exists.

The Republic Car Company was founded by George Adam Rentschler, a prominent industrialist involved in the manufacturing of stream engines and other products, including pottery and beer. In 1909, he had just completed the construction of the Rentschler Building downtown.

At the time, there were around 300 companies around the nation making automobiles or parts and supplies, especially in the Midwest.

Republic-1911The Hamilton Daily Republican reported that there was an initial investment of $500,000 — equivalent to a $12 million investment today.

“The company will manufacture a high-grade, medium-priced automobile, of standard design,” the paper said.

The first home of the Republic was originally a paper mill located on Fairgrove Avenue opposite the Butler County Fairgrounds, which was later expanded with a modern factory that later became the W. H. Kiefaber Company, a plumbing supply firm.

The Republic automobile was assembled using parts supplied by leading manufacturers, such as the Wisconsin Engine Company and the Harrison Radiator Company. The Republic plant manufactured the chassis and assembled all the ironwork, installed the upholstery and painted and tested the automobile.

072713republicauto02Republic was among the first to be equipped with doors for both front and back seats, which gave the automobile a very neat appearance. Headlamps were powered by a carbide gas tank located on the running board. The first models were four cylinders, but in 1911 Republic converted to a powerful six-cylinder Wisconsin engine.

“To many admirers it was somewhat better looking than the Packard,” writes John C. Slade, one of the founders of the Antique and Classic Car Club, in a 1960 article on the Republic. “Most of the Republics were painted a blue-gray or green. A few were painted black…

“Like many early automobiles, the Republic was a masculine appearing automobile — ladies almost always rode in the back seat in those days — with large heavy wooden steering wheels, gears that required some doing to shift, and with the cutout open, a roar that would shame the Hollywood mufflers of a later day.”

Dealerships were not common in those days and many Republic’s were purchased directly from the factory in Hamilton and driven to their homes throughout the Midwest.

Although the factory records are believed to be destroyed, it’s been estimated that anywhere from 400 to 1,200 Republics were manufactured. The cars sold for $2,000 to $2,400 at the Hamilton factory, which included a show room.

In September, 1910, a Republic lost a noted race. Its opponent, however, was not another car but an airplane piloted by none other than Orville Wright in what the Hamilton Evening Journal described as “one of the most beautiful flights ever attempted by an aviator.” At the time, both automobiles and airplanes were still somewhat of a novelty.
072713republicauto01The race took place in Dayton, with Wright covering 22 miles in 25 minutes.

The newspaper said Wright “looked down on the 60-horsepower Republic going as fast as it could and kept about even with it until it was necessary to go ahead; then he let the wings of his air bird flap a little faster and he went by the Republic like a shot.”

Wright won by about a mile, the newspaper said, as “the whistles of the city blew and the thousands cheered.”

Another mystery regarding the Republic, however, is the reason for the company’s demise, although the Great Flood of 1913 may have been a factor.

The Fairgrove Avenue plant was on high enough ground and protected by the Miami-Erie Canal to escape direct damage from the flood. In fact, the factory provided shelter for flood refugees and members of the Republic staff are known to have aided in rescue work.

The flood also had a devastating effect on the local economy, and with the disruption to railroad lines and other commercial transportation, the plant may have had trouble securing parts. Since there were so many start-up automobile companies at the time, it’s possible that the Republic just couldn’t maintain a market for all of those reasons.

The Republic is now memorialized in downtown Hamilton on the northeast corner of Second and High.

Sponsored by the Antique and Classic Car Club of Butler County in commemoration its more than 60 years in Hamilton, the sculpture is the creation of Lashua Metal Studios.

CLICK HERE to find out more about the studio.

City of Sculpture photo
City of Sculpture photo

 

 

 

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