Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Budd Co., 1912
Hunting Park Avenue between Fox & Wissahickon Streets, Philadelphia PA

Harold E. Spaulding, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The Budd Company was founded in 1912 when Edward Gowen Budd resigned from Hale & Kilburn, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of rail car components. Budd took with him 13 men and together they developed and manufactured the first American all-steel touring automobile body. From early in his career, Budd was knowledgeable in the production and forming of metal products; while a young employee of the American Pulley Company, he developed an all-sheet-steel pulley that replaced the turned cast wheel/wooden block pulley, thus saving large amounts in labor in its production. Later, with Hale & Kilburn, Budd developed a pressed steel railroad car seat, which replaced wooden seats and economized production.

The first Budd Company plant was located at Tioga and Aramingo Avenues in 1912; the Oakland auto, with its all-steel body was the first vehicle produced. One year later, the facility moved to a larger space at the Bogg's Mill at I and Ontario Streets. A galvanized sheet steel temporary building adjacent to the mill housed the machining and press operations; nearby, sheet steel was stacked under a circus tent. Newly developed acetylene welding machinery was also imported from France to join sheets. As bodies were completed at the plant, they were loaded onto rail cars and shipped to Michigan.

By 1915, Budd employed over 600 men and was forced to relocate to larger facilities at the present site. Production immediately rose from 100 to 500 car bodies per day. One year later, the company produced its 100,000th Dodge touring car body, less than two years after its initial order. Shortly thereafter, they developed an all-steel automobile roof for Dodge. Also in 1916, the Budd Wheel Company was formed to produce all-steel wire-spoked wheels. During World War I, Budd's production focus shifted somewhat; they manufactured steel helmets, artillery wheels, shell casings, and so on. But by 1921 after the war, Budd produced his 1,000,000th automobile body.

Budd's influence crossed the Atlantic in 1924 with an agreement that allowed Citroen of France to produce an all-steel car body using Budd's methods in 1924. One year later, Budd formed a joint venture company with Morris Motors of England and together, their Pressed Steel Company of Great Britain produced bodies for vehicles ranging from the Morris Mini to the Rolls Royce. Also in 1925, Budd expanded his influence directly into Detroit with the purchase of the Liberty Motor Car Company, which was in receivership. By 1928, Budd's work force in the U.S. exceeded 10,000 employees manning over 600 presses.

Auto sales declined 40% in 1929 with the onset of the Depression; however, during that time, Budd expanded his research program and developed the Shotwell Electric Process, which enabled stainless steel plates to be welded. This development and the desire to diversify led Budd to expand his production line into streamlined rail cars. From 1931 to 1935, Budd designed and produced the Burlington Pioneer Zephyr, the Twin Zephyr, the Mark Twain Zephyr, and the Flying Yankee.

During the 1930s, Budd's developments continued to advance automotive technology. In 1930, he designed an experimental front-wheel drive system, which found its way into the Citroen in 1934. That same year, Budd developed the body for the Chrysler Airflow and one year later the Lincoln Zephyr. Also by 1935, Budd's production was so great that all of its workers who had been laid off in 1929 had been recalled. Budd opened a plant called Ambi Budd in Berlin, Germany in 1936; at that plant, he assisted in the production of the Volkswagen and Opel Kadet. One year later, Renault of France came out with a copy of the Kadet called the Juvaquatre; Budd sued for patent infringement and forced Renault to pay royalties to Ambi Budd. Prior to World War II, Budd Ambi was nationalized by the German government.

In World War II, Budd's focus was directed entirely to the war effort. By February 1942, 4,400 employees were in service and 5,500 women had joined the labor force. By the war's end, over 6,600 Budd employees were in service, and the labor force totalled over 20,000.

After the war, a Materials Distribution Center was established to safeguard the operation from steel shortages. In 1946, the Budd Field Plant (soon to be called the Red Lion Plant in Northeast Philadelphia) converted its operation from ammunition to rail car production. Shortly thereafter, the Edward G. Budd Company and the Budd Wheel Company were combined into the Budd Manufacturing Company.

In November 1946, Edward G. Budd died at age 75; he was succeeded by his son, Edward G. Jr., who continued the expansion of the company. In 1949, Budd built a $7 million stamping plant in Gary, Indiana and the Red Lion Plant received a $1.4 million foundry for the production of grey cast iron brake drums. The Korean War caused a 10% reduction in the work force but in 1952 the Hunting Park facility was expanded with a new plant to machine and weld tank hulls, turrets, and jet engine blades.

During the 1950s, Budd continued to produce automobile bodies, shipped to the manufacturers ready for painting; however, during that time it also diversified its holdings. Seven separate divisions were established: automotive; rail car; Continental Diamond Fibre Company (a company bought by Budd in 1955 that produced isotope radiographic non-destructive testing machines); Defense; Nuclear Systems; Tatnall Measuring Systems Company (a company formed by Budd in 1956 for non-destructive testing of equipment and materials); and International. In 1958, the Electronic Controls Section was formed by Budd to design, build, market, and service automatic welding control systems.

In 1963, Budd received several large contracts. Its Red Lion Plant was awarded a $68 million contract to produce 660 subway cars; also that year, the Electronics Control Section developed the first successful Storm Radar Detector Processor for the Air Force. In 1965, Budd engineers developed the first successful automotive disc brake (Budd developed the first disc brakes for rail cars in 1938).

Edward G. Budd, Jr. retired in 1967 and shortly thereafter the new management began divesting itself of its nonproductive companies. The company continued to grow, however, through the purchase of the Gindy Manufacturing Company (producer of truck trailers in Downingtown, PA), the Waupaca Foundry (producer of grey iron), the Milford Fabricating Company (an automotive prototype and tooling company in Detroit), and the Durolastic Products Company (manufacturer of reinforced plastic auto parts in Detroit). E.G. Budd, Jr. died in 1971 and one year later the corporate offices of the company were moved to Troy, Michigan. During the 1970s, the company continued to enjoy success, but in 1980, Budd began to have losses. Employment dropped from 21,500 to 12,000 and many its plants across the country began to close.

[1] Most of the material in this section was taken from Vincent R. Courtenay, "The Budd Company at 75," printed by the Budd Company, Troy, MI., 1987.

Update May 2007 (by Muriel Kirkpatrick):
One of the largest manufacturers in Philadelphia finished operations here in 2002 when work was consolidated in Detroit. The property was acquired by Preferred Real Estate Investments, a local developer which has successfully transformed a power plant in Chester into the Wharf at Rivertown office complex. Designated the Budd Commerce Center, plans for the seventy-five acres with twenty buildings, offering 2.4 million square feet of space, include commercial, retail, and residential development. Proposals have included a junkyard and a mushroom factory (Philadelphia Business Journal, October 7, 2006). Temple University located its Health System Corporate Offices in the four-story building and adjacent warehouse on the south side of Hunting Park Avenue. GRM Information Management Services has acquired a 247,000-square-foot building. Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc. had an option for eighteen acres to build a slots parlor, but the Pennsylvania Gaming Board did not choose the site for gaming facilities, selecting instead two sites along the Delaware River.