Hilltop Carriage

“If the question was asked: ‘In what city in the world are the greatest number of carriages manufactured?’ almost any American school boy would answer Cincinnati, Ohio.” – The Hub, October 1897
Walnut Hills boasted several carriage factories in the late nineteenth century. The finest quality coaches came from the Hill Top carriage shop between Gilbert Avenue and the top of what is now Florence Avenue. Shortly after T. J. Orr – a native of East Walnut Hills – opened of the factory in 1885, an account of Cincinnati’s “Leading Manufactures” reported: “They are practical and experienced carriage manufacturers, and do first-class work only. Their work is all done by hand, no machinery whatever being used. … An average of ten employees are kept busy here the year round in making fine carriages, buggies, phaetons and spring wagons of superior build.”
By 1892, John Phillip Thompson bought out Orr. Thompson was originally from England, where he worked in the carriage trade in York for seven years, followed by two years in the high-quality London market as a painter and “ornamentor.” He found his way to the US in 1867, and to Cincinnati in about 1890. An 1894 profile said “Our subject is a member of the I. O. O. F. [ Independent Order of Odd Fellows] and the Knights of Workmen; the family attend the Episcopal Church. Mr. Thompson is recognized as one of the most expert carriage painters in the city. He gives his personal attention to the business, and the quality of the carriages manufactured being of a superior grade, he has succeeded in building up an extensive and rapidly increasing business.”
In 1898, Hegge Brothers opened another carriage factory next door to Hill Top, and in 1899 both moved to neighboring addresses on Woodburn Avenue. A few years later new businesses had taken over the Woodburn addresses.
Hill Top Carriage, which catered to the high end of the trade, was an anomaly. The “Cincinnati Buggy” that took the market by storm was more often an inexpensive, simple, unadorned vehicle aimed at the farmer who wanted something smaller and lighter than his working wagon to drive to town. Before then end of the nineteenth century the city was churning out 100,000 per year, valued at more than $10 million. The Queen City consistently outproduced the next two metropolitan areas – in the 1870’s, New York and Philadelphia, but by the 1890’s points farther west. The cost and volume breakthroughs came from the extensive use of machinery producing “duplicate [interchangeable] parts,” further minimization of labor hours by using fewer coats of thicker paints, and shipping the vehicles in boxes leaving final assembly to the distributor or customer.