The Gardner Motor Company 1919-1931

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1919 to 1931
Location: St. Louis, Missourimap
Surname/tag: Gardner
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Early in his career, Russell E. Gardner manufactured hickory spokes for carriage wheels in Tennessee as well as establishing banks in Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri. He expanded his manufacturing to complete carriages establishing the Banner Buggy Co. in 1892 in Columbus, Ohio then moving production to St. Louis, Missouri in 1897 where Banner Buggies became one of the largest buggy manufacturers in the U.S.[1]

He got started in automobile manufacturing by building bodies for Chevrolet alongside his horse carriage production. By 1915 this had led to the complete assembly of Chevrolets in St. Louis and Russell Gardner controlled all Chevrolet trade west of the Mississippi River. With his two sons entering the military during World War I, Russell sold his automobile manufacturing plant to General Motors. At the close of the war and return of his sons, Russell decided to purchase back the manufacturing facility and founded the Gardner Motor Company in 1919.[2]

The Gardner Motor Company was established with Russell E. Gardner, Sr. as chairman of the board, and his sons, Russell E. Gardner, Jr., as president, and Fred Gardner as vice-president. Their previous experience had been in the assembling of cars, so it was not surprising that the Gardner automobile was assembled from bought-in parts. Lycoming engines were used throughout the years of production. A four-cylinder model with a 112-inch (2,800 mm) wheelbase and medium price was introduced in late 1919 as a 1920 model.[3]

Sales in 1921 were 3,800 cars, which increased in 1922 to 9,000. In early 1924 “Cannon Ball” Baker established a new mid-winter transcontinental record from New York to Los Angeles in 4 days, 17 hours, and 8 minutes in a Gardner. They started to prepare to expand the product line and distributorship network. The plant's capacity was 40,000 cars annually, and by 1925 these included both sixes and eights. The fours were dropped in 1925, with both sixes and eights being produced in 1926 and 1927.

For 1928 and 1929 the eights were the only engines used. The interior of the Series 90 cars had many high-quality materials, such as silver-finished hardware, silk window curtains, walnut wood pieces and mohair upholstery (Series 75 and 80 did not have walnut in the interior.) All cars had both fuel and temperature gauge as standard equipment – a touch of luxury for the era. During the summer of 1929, Gardner announced two "very important" automobile contracts. The first was with Sears, Roebuck and Company, who wanted Gardner to develop a new vehicle which could be sold by mail order. The other was with New Era Motors, to manufacture the front-wheel-drive Ruxton. With the stock market crash in late 1929, both deals fell through. The 1930 model Gardners returned to the six-cylinder engine only.

The 1931 models were the same as the 1930 model, just mildly updated. In mid-1931, Russell E. Gardner, Jr. solicited the permission of his stockholders to stop producing automobiles. The reasons he gave for his company's failure were that Gardner had been unprofitable after 1927 due to fierce competition from the major producers of automobiles and their control of many sources of parts supply. The Gardner funeral cars were built through 1932, then the company ended all production.


  1. Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., The Book of St. Louisans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of St. Louis and Vicinity, Second Edition (Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Co., 1912), 219.
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Gardner (automobile)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 3, 2020).
  3. Dan Wiese, “Moon, Gardner, Success and Other Brands made St. Louis a Center of early Car-making," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec 3, 2008.

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