In his recent book, KEWANEE 1854-2000 (available from the Kewanee Historical Society and Amazon.com), Larry Lock told us that “[w]When the first automobile hit the road in Kewanee before 1908, the town’s first car dealership was AC Taylor. Curious, I decided to find out more about Mr. Taylor.
A story in the May 17, 1907 KEWANEE DAILY STAR COURIER reported that “AC Taylor is the first Kewanee man to run an automobile stock. . . . Mr. Taylor received a car load of machinery from Ford Co. in Detroit. . . The ‘cars’ are ‘runabouts’. . . with top and lamps. The engines are equipped with four cylinders with a power of between 16 and 20 horsepower. The machines look very good and are known for their durability. They are capable of reaching a speed of around 45 miles per hour.
Taylor’s automobile advertisements soon began to appear regularly in the newspaper. But who was AC Taylor and why did he finally start selling automobiles?
Taylor was a native of Wethersfield, born in 1855 to John and Deborah Taylor, who had arrived in the township in 1850, purchased 160 acres and started farming. One of five children, Taylor grew up farming, with his parents eventually acquiring over 600 acres in Wethersfield and Galva townships.
After early schooling and working on the family farm, Taylor went into business for himself. He rented land from his father and started farming for himself.
In 1879 Taylor married Mary A. Glyde. In 1890, the couple had two children.
Soon Taylor owned 240 acres in Wethersfield Township, as well as land in Minnesota. Taylor continued farming until 1897 when the family moved to Kewanee and Taylor became a traveling salesman for the Minneapolis Thresher Company. His ambition, however, soon led Taylor to become a dealer in threshers, shellers, and iron bridges.
By 1903 Taylor had acquired two lots on the south side of Church St. in the village of Wethersfield, just west of Tenney St., where he erected a building on one of the lots. His business took off.
Meanwhile, as his business grew, Taylor and his wife moved in with the family into a nice house on Chestnut Street. By 1905 Taylor’s business in Wethersfield was selling carriages, wagons and buggies; harness and saddlery; gasoline engines; rubber tires; pumps; paints, oil and glass; Material; cooker and tinsmith; and windmills. As business boomed, Taylor began taking delivery of railroad cars from his transportation vehicles. He was also buying other stocks in large quantities.
As the automobile craze began to sweep the country, Taylor saw its potential. According to his later obituary, he was one of the first Kewaneans to own an automobile. It was a “Glide”, a “smooth and fast” single-cylinder car, manufactured by the Bartholomew Company in Peoria Heights. The car was first made in 1902, and in 1904 the company added a flywheel and increased the engine to 8 hp. It used a single chain drive with the engine positioned horizontally under the seat. A few other brave Kewanee souls also drove Glide-powered cars.
But eventually, Taylor began driving a Ford Co. “Runabout,” testing it on the dirt roads around Henry County. And, he liked it. Taylor began talking with Ford personnel and struck a deal, becoming the first Kewanee company to stock automobiles, along with its cars, wagons, buggies, farm implements and other items. Taylor was also Henry County’s first storage dealer and one of the few in both Illinois and the country.
Taylor expanded his business beyond his store and dealerships. He moved entire houses and buildings for others. Taylor also led thresher crews using her equipment to bring in crops in the fall.
In 1915, Taylor built a new foundation for a large automobile garage and workshop across from its current location. His original building continued to house his hardware and tool business as well as an automobile sales room. He moved another building into the new foundation to house his “modern” car garage and workshop.
Taylor continued to expand his empire. In addition to selling Ford cars, he supported sales of Hallidays, White Steamers, Chalmers, Maxwells, Hudsons and other classic cars. Eventually, however, Taylor became exclusively a Hudson dealership, which later became American Motors.
In 1924, Taylor sold his business to his son, EG Taylor, who incorporated it as AC Taylor and Son Company, with Taylor retaining a minority stake. He then devoted his time to his agricultural activities. Taylor died in 1944 at his home in Chestnut St.. Mary Taylor had died in 1925, and Taylor was survived by two children.
According to his obituary, during the busiest time of his life, in addition to his Wethersfield store, commercial threshing crews and a building removal crew. Taylor farmed 800 acres and maintained over 40 teams of horses to provide power for his many businesses. The obituary further observed that “[t]Mr. Taylor’s career has followed the development of power in industry and agriculture, and he has pioneered many experimental projects which are now universally accepted. He owned and operated Henry County’s first steam thresher, tested his seed corn when “practical” farmers scoffed at the idea, and was among the earliest exponents of alfalfa in that area. ‘AC’, as it was well known, was . . . thought [to be] among the first to use tractors on farms.
After five generations of Taylors at the helm of the business started in the last years of the 19th century, it was sold in 2012. It was the oldest family business in town.
Albert C. Taylor was a man who saw the road ahead and drove hard to get there.
(For more on Kewanee’s story, you can buy Larry Lock’s book for just $15. It’s well worth it.)