|The adventurous Velies
All in the family
week’s column focuses on the products manufactured by the Velie family, who made
everything from carriages and saddles to automobiles and airplanes between 1902 and 1928.
Week Two: The Velies
This week continues
a new series on related companies and connections.
We’ll explore some of the other brands that are
linked historically to John Deere in some way, shape or form. Whether Deere acquired them
or simply sold their products through its dealer network, these connected companies expand
the market for John Deere memorabilia…often adding items of considerable value due to
rarity and age.
To learn more about this family and how
they were related to John Deere, read last week’s column.
The Velie family was a busy bunch. They began numerous manufacturing
ventures in the early 1900s. From cars and carriages to saddles and airplanes, the Velie
name can be found on several forms of transportation.
We’ll start our study of the Velie manufacturing mecca with the
simplest and earliest mode of transportation — horses.
In 1892, John Deere’s grandson, Stephen Velie, Jr., moved to
Kansas City to be assistant manager of the John Deere Plow Company. A few years later, he
founded the Velie Saddlery Company. Many of Velie’s saddles, collars and harnesses
for horses were marketed and sold through Deere’s KC branch.
This 1896 button
promotes Deere’s "Up-To-Date" saddles, harnesses, and collars, which were
most likely made by the Velie Saddlery Company in Kansas City, home of the John Deere Plow
The next venture began in 1902 when Stephen, Jr.’s brother,
Willard, launched the Velie Carriage Company of Moline, which manufactured a full line of
buggies, carriages, surreys, driving wagons, and spring wagons called the "Wrought
Iron Line" of vehicles.
Started in 1902 by Willard Velie, John Deere’s youngest grandson,
the Velie Carriage Company of Moline made 21,000 buggies sand surreys in 1907 alone.
This carriage tag and a large poster of
the various models (right) are now considered prized memorabilia.
Moline mobiles: horseless carriages
In 1908, the Velie Motor Vehicle Co. incorporated and began
manufacturing automobiles, which were marketed through the Deere dealer network. The Velie
Motor Car Co. also existed briefly (1909-1912).
carriages and cars from 1902 to 1928 (see photo gallery below).
These pieces of literature (at left) elaborate on the specific product
offerings in the line. The hubcaps come from a Velie vehicle, as does the radiator emblem.
Note how that design is shown on the middle piece of literature. The medallion matches the
logo used on the far right brochure.
Willard also started the Velie Engineering Co. in 1911 to build gas,
steam and electric motors and engines, plus automobile accessories and motor trucks.
In 1916, the Engineering Co. consolidated with the Motor Vehicle Co. to
form the Velie Motors Corporation.
A picture postcard featuring a Velie car "on the Old Santa Fe Trail" joins an assortment of other Velie-related memorabilia. A stick pin, watch fob, carriage tag, and pinback promote Velie cars and carriages. The letter opener has "Velie" on one side and "Deere" on the reverse (both sides shown).
The company became well-known not for
quantity, but quality at a reasonable price.
Despite their low-priced vehicles, the Velies
grew even wealthier, as their company’s stock was valued at $2 million in 1916. By
1920, production peaked at 9,000 automobiles just as the buggy business was phased out. In
all, the Velies built 250,000 to 300,000 motor vehicles during the two decades the factory
was in operation.
According to one historic resource, the U.S. Navy
chose the Velie engine as one of the eight best in a 1922 test. The Navy tested 76 foreign
and domestic cars with the goal of selecting the best automobile motors for adaptation to
military use. As a winner, the Velie mobile was in the company of famous manufacturers
such as Duesenberg, Fiat, and Packard.
According to Bob Nelson, manager of the Official Velie Vehicle Register, there are just
over 200 known vehicles in existence today. These magnificent mobiles range from sedans to
sportsters…even a "touring torpedo!" Apparently, the Velies also made
hearses and fire trucks!
Between 1916 and 1920, the Velies also manufactured the "Biltwel
12-25" tractor, which was powered by a Velie engine. The tractor teamed up with
Deere’s plows in exhibitions and fairs across the country.
Oddly enough, the "Biltwel" name was also
used on a line of cars introduced in 1916-1917.
Despite his own venture in tractor manufacturing, Willard Velie helped
push Deere to introduce a farm tractor during his term as director between 1911 and 1918.
Experimental designs never succeeded and Deere eventually bought the Waterloo Boy tractor
line from the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918.
Just plane crazy
In 1927, Willard Velie named his son (Willard, Jr.) as vice-president
of the Velie Motors Corporation. This young man convinced his father of a bright future in
aviation and soon the Velies had a hand in Central States Aircraft Corporation of
What followed is the production of the
Monocoupe private airplane. By 1928, the Velie’s plane engine was awarded the
"highest rating" by the U.S. Department of Commerce, so plans were developed to
build a new 4-seater plane called the Monocoach.
End of an era
Unfortunately, the senior Velie never saw that
plane take off. He died in October of that year at the age of 62.
A month later, Velie automobile production was
stopped and the company was sold soon after to an Indianapolis firm.
Just four months after his father’s death,
Willard Velie, Jr. also passed away, which led to the sale of the Velie airplane venture
to a St. Louis firm.
Car photos courtesy of the Official
Velie Vehicle Register
Velie Model G Touring car. Owners: Bob & Leah Nelson of Phoenix, Arizona.
1919 Velie Model 39 Sports Special.
California top, Continental 9N-Six engine at the 1919 California Auto Show.
1918 Velie Touring car. Owner: Brian
Skupa of Rockford, Illinois.
1928 Velie Model 6-66. Standard
4-door sedan in front of the Villa Velie in Moline, Illinois. Owner: Wilbert Stoltenberg
of Walcott, Iowa.
||This brochure (left) tells the
adventures of the Velie car on its trip through the Grand Canyon. Photographs and colored
images along with an excellent storyline make this an interesting piece to include in any
collection. The leather-bound pocket calendar, watch fob and pinback reinforce that
"The Name Insures the Quality" for "The Wrought Iron Line of Velie
Vehicles, Moline, Ill."
Text © 2000
Brenda Kruse; Photos © 2000 Nick Cedar unless indicated otherwise.