The Duesenberg: A Remnant of A Gilded Age

A co-founder of the Duesenberg Motor Co. was a mechanic for a farm equipment dealer.


| March 2017



driver's cockpit

The driver's cockpit of a 1932 Duesenberg Model J.

Photo by Sam Moore

One of my favorite museums is the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. Every time I’m close, I make it a point to visit. There are many beautiful cars in the museum, including several totally stunning Duesenbergs.

While I doubt very much that any farmer could ever have afforded to buy the expensive and luxurious Duesenberg, one of the company’s founders did get his start as a farm equipment mechanic, so perhaps its inclusion in Farm Collector may be excused, Besides it’s darn good history.

Farm boys set out on their own

Two young Duesenberg brothers, Augie, 6, and Fred, 9, were brought to the U.S. along with the rest of the family in 1886 from Kirchheide, Germany. An older brother had already emigrated and settled in Iowa, so the Duesenberg family (except the father, who died in 1881) put down roots on a 200-acre farm outside of Rockford, Iowa, near Mason City. The boys went through eighth grade in the local school.

Fred’s first job, at age 17, was as a mechanic for a local farm equipment dealer, but he soon opened a bicycle shop in Rockford and took a correspondence course in engineering. To advertise his bikes, he took up racing and set two world speed records. At some point, brother Augie joined the bike shop and learned all there was to know about making and repairing bikes.

Soon, along with many other bicycle enthusiasts, the brothers were bitten by the internal combustion engine craze and began to repair the crude motorcars of the day and build motor bicycles. In 1903, after selling the bike shop, Fred moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to work on the Rambler car being built by Thomas B. Jeffery. He stayed there a year before returning to Des Moines where he worked in an auto repair shop for one year. Meanwhile, Augie started a bicycle shop in Garner, Iowa, where he met his future wife.

Launching the Mason automobile

In 1905, Fred and another man opened their own garage selling Rambler and Marion cars, and did pretty well, but Fred wanted to build his own racing cars. All he needed was money, and he found it when he met Edward R. Mason, a wealthy lawyer who was interested in cars. Fred designed a 2-cylinder car, Mason liked it, and in 1906 he, Fred and Augie formed Mason Motor Car Co. in Des Moines to build it.