Since the time we are born, we are subjected to changes. We are taught by our parents and we continue to evolve. Life is a lifelong classroom and we continue to learn until the day we die. Business is life. We make our livings by earning money to provide for our families. When we invest in business we must succeed or face failure – no food, no shelter and warm clothing to ward off the winter chill. Such is life. If we do not adapt to change, we do not live.
Our little town has witnessed the birth of many inventions and ideas, some quite valid while there are some we would rather forget. With the thoughts of our ingenious ancestors came some very creative ideas that in time led to the formation of some very profitable businesses that called Concord home. The list is varied and can be quite lengthy. Today I visit with one business in particular that perfected the art of early travel and succeeded. I visit with the Abbot-Downing Company.
It is quite well known that J. Stephens Abbott and Lewis Downing were on the forefront of transportation, excelling with coach manufacturing to a very high degree. Known to this very day, they manufactured the very famous Concord Coach that was shipped to many far points around the world. The coach was both sought and coveted to transport passengers and mail for our ancestors, a quality coach with many features unknown before Abbot Downing invented and incorporated them into their Concord Coach.
Lewis Downing was a wheelwright, opening a small business in 1813 where he built wagons for multiple purposes, freight and chaises. Lewis saw his business grow over a period of years and employed a dozen employees by 1825. In 1826, Downing joined J. Stephens Abbot, forming the famous company known as Abbot-Downing within two years. Both Abbot and Downing were familiar with quality, both experienced with building wagons and coaches for years. They incorporated the finest material into their Concord Coaches. It is noted that the long leather straps or thorough braces provided a most unique suspension. During a time when bumpy and uncomfortable travel was known and accepted, the Concord Coach rode smoothly with the coach and passengers suspended by the leather strips running lengthwise under the coach body.
The successful business partners that jointly owned the Abbot-Downing Company here in Concord worked together closely. They were both innovative and adaptable, willing to experiment with ideas that would improve upon the quality and success that they had grown accustomed to. It was in the year 1847 that the partners went their separate ways, dissolving the Abbot-Downing Company after producing almost about 700 Concord Coaches.
This Concord success story does not end with the parting of Abbot and Downing. Lewis Downing simply moved down the road, remaining in Concord, forming a new company named Lewis Downing and Sons. Lewis and his two sons continued to build quality coaches, becoming very successful and landing many contracts with the United States Government, various wholesalers and retailers. Within a dozen years, Lewis Downing and Sons employed 200 men and produced many coaches each year. J. Stephens Abbot also continued to manufacture his wagons and coaches in Concord while located in his old shops. After Abbot Downing dissolved, J. Stephens Abbot formed a company with his son, J.S. and E.A. Abbot and Company. The Abbots also enjoyed success in the coming years with government contracts, wholesaling and retailing their wagons and coaches. All good things must end. The good years become fond memories while the bad years are soon forgotten. Lewis Downing retired in 1865 and change was once again on the horizon.
Lewis Downing and Sons, now controlled by his two sons, sought opportunities for growth, success and profit. Sometimes history visits once again, if not completely repeating itself time and again. With Lewis now retired, his sons approached the J.S. and E.A. Abbot Company to discuss thoughts of a merger. After much discussion, both the Abbots and the Downings once again joined forces. In the year 1873, the Abbot Downing Company was incorporated and enjoyed wonderful success, producing 2,000 coaches each year. Year after year, success was enjoyed, people apprenticed, people retired and decades did pass. By 1915, a gentleman by the name of Rufus Elwell was functioning as the plant manager. He also happened to be a major stockholder in the Abbot Downing Company.
Concord welcomed a new century. Some people still preferred the old ways, wagons and coaches a preferred method of transportation and delivery. Times were changing as motorized automobiles were becoming available, more and more each day. They were certainly a novelty, but a novelty with a purpose that could be used to do the work of many horses. Henry Ford was busy perfecting assembly lines and making automobiles affordable to the average person. Change had arrived. In order to be successful, change would need to be embraced, and Rufus Elwell announced that his company would start manufacturing motor trucks and motorized fire equipment, as well as their existing lines of wagons and carriages.
The Abbot Downing Company was again reorganized to adapt for the future. The new Abbot Downing Truck and Body Company embraced change and the future looked bright indeed. It was in the year 1916 that the very first Concord Motor Truck was manufactured and rolled onto the streets of Concord. Sadly, the Concord Motor Truck was not destined to become the legend we found in the Concord Coach. They produced many Abbot Downing Concord Motor Trucks, but sometimes changing and adapting to new ways is difficult.
The Abbot Downing Concord Motor Truck Company produced motorized trucks and motorized fire equipment for several years until they closed. Wells Fargo eventually purchased the Abbot Downing name, but that is a story for another Sunday.