ArteFACTS: Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Coach, 1933

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The artefact featured in today’s blog post is one of the Oshawa Museum’s recent acquisitions.  I was hoping that this artefact could be included in our latest exhibition Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting unfortunately the coach is very fragile and does require some conservation work before it is placed on display for a period of time.  Although anyone that attends our Exhibition Opening next week will get an opportunity to view the coach as it will be on display, for one week only, along with the original plans and instructions for building the coach.

So what exactly was the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild, and what was its purpose?

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Fisher Body was an automobile coachbuilder founded by the Fisher Brothers in 1908 in Detroit Michigan.  By the 1920s, the Fisher Body Company had become one of the biggest and best known suppliers of automobile bodies in North America.  General Motors acquired the majority of the holdings of the Fisher Body Company in the early 1920s.  By 1926, General Motors turned the company into its main coach-building factory.   One of the obstacles that General Motors faced at the time was the lack of designers available for hire.

Starting in the 1930s, The Fisher Body Company in Detroit, in conjunction with General Motors in Detroit and Oshawa where the Canadian Headquarters was located, ran a series of competitions in design and styling for teenage students.  In the early years of the competition, contestants ordered a set of model plans to build a Napoleonic Carriage which was the signature logo of the company.

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The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild became the major recruiting tool for young artistic talent.  Each year twenty-four scholarships were awarded to boys between the ages of 12 and 16 in Canada and the United States.  These scholarships ranged in value from $500 up to $5000 in 1933.

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The Oshawa Museum has one of the earliest surviving Napoleonic carriages from the Guild competition in Canada.  This particular model was submitted for competition in 1933 by Floyd Hembruff.   When this carriage was submitted for donation to the Oshawa Museum it was accompanied by the original plans, contest rules, model diagrams and cut outs with assembly instructions.  The coach itself is 46 cm long, with the tongue added the total length is 71cm, the height is 28 cm and the width is 23 cm.  The finished model weighs about 7 pounds (3 Kg).

By 1938, with the increasing interest in car styling, the Craftsman’s Guild introduced a new category – designing and building a model car. The interest in the car design competition was so overwhelming that the Napoleonic Coach was dropped. By 1968, when the Craftsman’s Guild was concluded, over 8.7 million youths had enrolled over the life of the competition, millions of dollars in Awards had been given and many lives had been touched – some profoundly. Thru the years, the Craftsman’s Guild represented rock-solid values. Young men learned that perseverance was essential and that hard work paid off. They enjoyed a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from a constructive and positive activity – plus the joy of working with their hands and mind to create their very own design.

Many scholarships are given each year to young people with outstanding athletic ability or outstanding scholastic record.  What made the Craftsman’s Guild unique was recognition and reward for young people with outstanding creative ability.  Many of the winners went on to become designers themselves and others such as Floyd Hembruff became Mayor of his community and founding partner of a respected construction company in Matheson Ontario, Hembruff & Dambrowitz Construction Ltd. which built extensively throughout Northern Ontario.

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