The Remarkable St. Louis Wagon Builders

Legacy of legendary St. Louis wagon builders endures.

| October 2013

  • Linstroth
    Variations in condition, originality and completeness can affect resale values of vintage wagons. This Linstroth wagon not only benefits from vibrant original paint and sound wheels, but also retains its original seat and folding end gate.
    Image Courtesy Kathy Christensen
  • Luedinghaus Wagon Tower
    This early color image shows an artist's rendering of the Luedinghaus "tower of wagons" displayed at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.
    Illustration Courtesy David Sneed
  • Luedinghaus Color
    Color advertising was expensive: It was used sparingly by wagon makers. This Luedinghaus image was part of a promotional flyer outlining the brand’s advantages.
    Illustration Courtesy David Sneed
  • Gestring Badge
    Colorful and attractive promotional items such as this Gestring wagon watch fob garnered plenty of attention while helping reinforce the desirability of the brand.
    Photo Courtesy David Sneed
  • Weber Damme Mt. Olive
    This Weber & Damme wagon is being unloaded at a local train station. Period photography helps us better understand how early vehicles were used while often eliminating misconceptions and stereotypes.
    Photo Courtesy David Sneed
  • Gestring Wagon
    Located at the Santa Ynez Valley (Calif.) Historical Museum, this Gestring wagon features a 43-inch box width, St. Louis seat risers and contoured woodwork on the spring seat. The third set of sideboards (top box) are original. Designed to slope downward from a near 7-inch height in the front to just over 2 inches at the back of the wagon, they are extremely rare.
    Photo By David Sneed
  • St. Louis Dock
    Many of St. Louis' early wagon makers were positioned near steamboat landings. Such areas were a hub of activity, where supplies were unloaded and others were shipped west.
    Photo Courtesy David Sneed
  • Murphy Letters
    These rare, original letters from Joseph Murphy date to 1883 and 1887. Each has helped solidify his reputation for expert woodwork and high-quality vehicles.
    Photo Courtesy David Sneed
  • Tape
    Wagon makers often used practicality to their advantage. Functional items like this Luedinghaus-Espenschield tape measure were a creative and effective form of early vehicle advertising.
    Photo By David Sneed
  • Espenschied Print Ad
    By the last decade of the 19th century, Espenschield had joined forces with Luedinghaus to create an ultra-historic and formidable brand name.
    Illustration Courtesy David Sneed

  • Linstroth
  • Luedinghaus Wagon Tower
  • Luedinghaus Color
  • Gestring Badge
  • Weber Damme Mt. Olive
  • Gestring Wagon
  • St. Louis Dock
  • Murphy Letters
  • Tape
  • Espenschied Print Ad

Old wagons talk to me.

I know that sounds strange, but those early wheels do have a lot to say and one of the best ways to listen is by focusing on where the vehicle was made. For serious collectors, it’s one piece of information that can hold a wealth of details related to brand identity, design, construction, features, purpose, rarity and even competition in the market.

Location. Location. Location.

While most early wagon builders were small shops serving limited regions, many prominent makers capitalized on location. An area with easy access to navigable rivers, rails and roads was almost always a favorite spot. Chicago, for instance, was home to Peter Schuttler and Weber. South Bend, Ind., claimed Studebaker, Birdsell and Coquillard. Racine, Wis., boasted Mitchell, Racine and Fish Brothers.

St. Louis’ position on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers made it a natural crossroads for westward traffic and commerce. In fact, so many business opportunities existed there that, by the 1880s, the city was home to about 140 wagon and carriage builders, far more than any other city west of the Mississippi at that time. By the turn of the 20th century, directories show St. Louis with nearly 200 horse-drawn vehicle builders. The industry was so significant that some suppliers sent the majority of their production to the city. Many contend that St. Louis was home to more nationally recognized wagon companies than any other U.S. city.



Among those Mound City makers, several standout brands played significant roles in U.S. history. From immigrant travel to freighters, cattle drives and military campaigns, St. Louis wagons were well represented throughout the country. Many of those builders are still highly regarded by historians, enthusiasts and collectors. In honor of the city’s 250th anniversary in 2014, we’re taking a close look at a half dozen of the area’s most accomplished wagon brands.

J. Murphy & Sons

Established in 1825, Joseph Murphy’s shop was one of the oldest successful wagon manufacturers in St. Louis. Likewise, Murphy is arguably the most discussed and least known of any major U.S. wagon maker. Even though Murphy and his wagons are regularly referenced by collectors and academics, many questions remain about his company. In fact, of the 200,000 wagons purported to have been built by Murphy, not one has been conclusively identified.