Success for the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company

According to Sinclair Powell's definitive book about the manufacturer of the Franklin V-12, The Franklin Automobile Company, in 1893, when he was 27 and still in the newspaper business, H. H. stumbled across an opportunity to buy a patent for the process of diecasting.

Franklin V-12 engine
Publications International. Ltd.
All Franklin cars used air-cooled engines.

He grabbed it, opened a diecasting shop in Syracuse (probably the first in the nation), called it the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company, and soon found himself with more money than he'd ever dreamed of.

Eight years later, H. H. met a bright young bicycle racer, John Wilkinson, at a local machine shop. Wilkinson belonged to an established, respected, wealthy Syracuse family. Rugged, good-natured, outgoing, and athletic, he attended Cornell University, where he starred in tennis, track, baseball, and football, and, amazingly, finished his coursework with honors.

Wilkinson took a degree in mechanical engineering in 1889, soon landed a job with a local bicycle manufacturer, and went on to become a champion cyclist. He also became curious about the workings of internal combustion engines and motor cars.

Before he met Herbert Franklin, Wilkinson designed and built two prototype automobiles. His designs interested a group of New York businessmen, but they couldn't quite decide whether to put Wilkinson's car into production.

Finally, one member of the group introduced Wilkinson to H. H., who took a ride in Wilkinson's second prototype. That ride impressed H. H. and persuaded him to shell out $1100 so that Wilkinson could build a third prototype. This led to the car that went into production.

Franklin put his name on the enterprise, becoming CEO and primary shareholder. He gave Wilkinson stock and made him chief engineer. The first Franklin Model A went on sale in June 1902 and holds the distinction of being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in America.

The company sold 13 cars in 1902, and from that modest beginning, Franklin went on to become not only a successful car company, but one ideally suited to the quiet, tree-lined streets of Syracuse.

For 28 years, from 1902 to 1930, the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company thrived, and during much of that time, it enjoyed the distinction of being the city's largest employer. Some 3200 people worked for Franklin in its heyday. H. H. ran the business side, but he was wise enough to let Wilkinson make the engineering and manufacturing decisions.

Wilkinson took his responsibility seriously, was revered by his underlings, and set quite a high standard in everything he did. He insisted on constant improvement and innovation, and he seemed to revel in the fact that Franklin automobiles marched to a different drummer.

Air cooling became Franklin's hallmark. All Franklin cars used air-cooled engines, all had overhead valves, and most used flexible wooden chassis frames and aluminum bodies.

As the company's ads and literature explained, air cooling did away with the radiators, hoses, water pumps, and headaches of a "normal" engine's boiling and freezing.

Franklin's wooden frames, along with full-elliptic leaf springs, gave a "baby buggy" ride over the unpaved roads of the day: supple and floaty. Aluminum bodies were part of John Wilkinson's obsessive quest for "scientific light weight."

Go on to the next page to learn more about Edwin McEwen and H. H. Franklin.

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