The Cars Were Built to Last, But the Company Didn’t

July 19, 1902

A new automobile manufacturer was incorporated in the city of Jackson, Michigan. This fledgling enterprise was called the Jackson Automobile Company, and its founding partners were Byron J. Carter, who helped manage a bicycle and sundries store and acquired a great deal of expertise in the development of engines; Charles Lewis, who owned a spring axle company and served as a bank director; and George A. Matthews, who had operated a buggy manufacturing firm and likewise served as a bank director.

The company, which was first headquartered at Park Avenue (present-day Hupp Street) and Park Place in Jackson, was one of several automobile manufacturers based in that Michigan city during the early part of the 20th century. This period in automotive history is now generally known as the Brass Era. The Jackson Automobile Company’s vehicles, like many others produced during that era, were characterized by the brass fittings used for such features as radiators and lights.

The distinctive automobiles built early on by the company included the 1903 Jaxon, powered by a three-cylinder steam engine; and the five-seat 1904 Orlo, equipped with a two-cylinder gasoline engine. The always inventive Carter was a major force in the construction of these automobiles and others.

The Jackson Automobile Company encountered a bump in the road in 1905 when Carter – unable to convince his partners to use a friction drive transmission he had created – left to launch a new enterprise. Carter ended up forming the Motorcar Company, and he integrated the friction drive transmission (a forerunner of today’s continuously variable transmission) into an automobile called the Cartercar. The Jackson Automobile Company, for its part, initially managed to weather Carter’s departure and – over the next several years – continued to churn out vehicles that were highly regarded for their durability.

The former Jackson Automobile Mfg. building today.

The company encountered a more formidable threat to its existence during World War I, when automobile production at the factory was significantly reduced in order to manufacture urgently needed military supplies. The Jackson Automobile Company never quite recovered from that temporary scale-down in the assembly of its automobiles, even when full-time production of those vehicles resumed after the war. Ultimately, the company was merged into the Ohio-based Associated Motor Industries in 1923. Associated Motor Industries, however, went out of business the following year.

For more information on the Jackson Automobile Company, please check out

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