Two places to discover the history of the Franklin Automobile Company

(September 23, 2014) One of the most interesting and intriguing pages from automotive history concerns the Franklin Automobile Company, which flourished in the first three decades of the 20th Century manufacturing an assortment of luxury cars.

It was in business from 1902 through 1934 in Syracuse, N.Y., before falling victim to declining sales as the Great Depression deepened. At its most productive in the late teens and early 20s, the Franklin Automobile Company employed 3,200 workers.

The company was founded by Herbert H. Franklin, who developed machine die-casting and produced the first air-cooled engine in 1901.

To demonstrate the durability of the air-cooled four-cylinder engine in 1904, the Franklin was driven from San Francisco to New York in a record 32 days. The trip is chronicled on a video complete with background music of the era. Watch the video.

There are two main sites where you can discover first-hand the history of the company and view many of the vehicles it made over its more than 30-year existence.

One is in Tucson, Ariz., and the other is part of the Gilbert Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich.

The Franklin Auto Museum in Tucson is maintained by the Thomas H. Hubbard/H.H. Franklin Foundation. Founded by Thomas Hubbard, the museum is a means to continue his collection of classic Franklin automobiles, and to provide an opportunity to develop a comprehensive Franklin Museum covering all years of the company's production.

Franklin advertising 1906

The museum includes Hubbard's entire Franklin automobile collection and extensive library of Franklin Company research materials.

The Franklin Museum, located at1405 East Kleindale Road, in open mid-October to Memorial Day, Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

In Michigan, a 7,000 square-foot facility dedicated to the Franklin automobile was dedicated last year at the Gilmore Car Museum. The building looks more like an old time car dealership than a museum structure. That's not an accident. The building is a faithful replica of a Los Angeles dealership once owned by Ralph Hamlin, the former bicycle racer who became Franklin's West Coast distributor and the firm's largest and most successful dealer.

The dealership-like museum houses some rare automobiles of historic interest. Among them, a Franklin Model A runabout, the first four-cylinder car built in America. A similar Franklin made the trip from San Francisco to New York City in 1904, cutting in half the cross-country record set the previous year.

"The goal of this museum is to tell the Franklin story of efficiency, light weight and direct air cooling autos," said Bob Amon, president of the H. H. Franklin Club. "People sometimes think my air-cooled car is strange," he said. "They forget about the 25 million air-cooled VW Beetles, the best-selling car of all time."

Of the 150,000 Franklins built between 1902 and 1934, it's estimated that about 3,700 have survived.

Other cars in the collection include Franklin's answer to luxury sedans built by Packard, Pierce and Cadillac. A 1932 Model 17 sedan, the one and only American car powered by a 12-cylinder air-cooled engine. Hamlin's 1911 racer in which Hamlin won the Los Angeles-to-Phoenix race is also there, on loan from an Oklahoma collector. And, there's a 1928 sedan that closely resembles the Franklins in which "Cannonball" Baker set so many "jazz era" cross-country and hill climb records.

The Franklin collection came about when enthusiast Bob Kern and his wife, Patricia, began thinking, four years ago, about finding a permanent home for their Franklin cars and literature. With the advice of Franklin friends the idea of a museum began to germinate, and with the encouragement of other collectors and Gilmore Car Museum director Michael Spezia a plan came together. Ground was broken in May 2009 and 18 months later the dream materialized.

"We've seen a lot of car museums, so we knew what we did not want when we designed this place" said Bob Harrison, who chaired the museum's building committee. "Franklins are unique in a lot of ways and I hope we've found a unique way to tell the Franklin story", he said. The Franklin Automobile Collection at Hickory Corners is part of the H H Franklin Club Inc.

Top photo: 1932 Franklin Twelve Cylinder Sedan belongs to the Franklin Automobile Collection at Hickory Corners, Michigan.