In 1792, Elias and Catharina Youngman (Jungman) settled on land given to them by Catharina’s father. They divided Youngmanstown into 60’ x 120’ plots to sell to other adventurous settlers. Buyers were also offered the option of purchasing outlots for grazing livestock in one acre increments. To the east, George Rote (Rhoade) began selling plots in Greenville or Rotestown as it was called after George’s death. Through the years, the villages grew until 1827 when they merged and were officially renamed in honor of Governor Thomas Mifflin, the first Governor of Pennsylvania after the Constitution of 1790.
The growth of Mifflinburg remained slow and steady until a new history took hold in the mid 19th century. The buggy business began with George Swentzel, who built the first carriage in Mifflinburg in 1845. Swentzel taught two apprentices before moving west to become a stock broker. His apprentices, Jacob Hendricks and Jacob Gutelius both opened their own shops. Jacob Hendricks eventually moved west. Jacob Gutelius taught his older brothers the business and they opened their own shops. Other men, like Daniel Moss, T.B. Taylor, and Isaiah Henry, also opened buggy shops. The 1855 assessment shows Mifflinburg, with its 800 citizens, had 13 coachmakers. In the 1880s, Mifflinburg Telegraph publisher, George Schoch, wrote an account on the buggy industry in town. His findings that 597 sleighs had been made in one month led him to conclude his article with the question: “Is there a town in the state the size of Mifflinburg that has a better record?” (Mifflinburg Telegraph, May 9, 1881) Since the 1880s, Mifflinburg has been known as “Buggy Town” because its buggy makers produced more buggies per capita than any other town in the state.
The Buggy Industry
Why did Mifflinburg have so many buggy makers? Certainly, the railroads arrival in 1871 helped to speed the arrival of parts to the makers and the delivery of finished vehicles to their markets. Known for their fine quality vehicles and ability to meet customer requests in an economic manner, Mifflinburg buggy makers sold their vehicles throughout the state and nation. Many of the businesses in town helped the buggy industry.
Following the industrial revolution, buggy makers purchased ‘ready-made’ parts from companies that specialized in these parts: axles from the Keystone Forging Company in Northumberland, fifth wheels from the Millersburg Fifth Wheel Company and bent wood from the Empire Bending Works of Lancaster. As time and technology changed how horse-drawn vehicles were made, it also ended the “Buggy Era”. From the 1760s when Cugnot first demonstrated his self-propelled vehicle to the 1880s when Karl Benz invented the 1 ½ horsepower gasoline powered car, man has been driven to travel faster and more comfortably. When Henry Ford made the Model T affordable, people abandoned their horse-drawn vehicles. One by one, buggy makers closed their doors. The last operating buggy manufacturer in Mifflinburg was the Berry Brothers – Fletcher and Hebron. Only one, the Mifflinburg Buggy Company had prepared itself for the advent of the horseless carriage.
The Body Company and Influence
The Mifflinburg Buggy Company was started in 1897 by Robert Gutelius, Harry Blair and Alfred Hopp and became the largest company in town. In 1903, Hopp left the company to open his own factory, making the two companies fierce rivals. By 1917, the Mifflinburg Buggy Company merged with the Mifflinburg Body and Gear Company. Under the leadership of William Sterling, the Buggy Company had already ventured into automobile bodies. With the merger of the companies, the Mifflinburg Body Company phased out horse drawn vehicles to concentrate on truck, bus and car bodies. The Mifflinburg Body Company made as many as 10,000 bodies annually, producing for Ford and Chevrolet as well as custom bodies.
During the Great Depression, the Body Company split their production between automobiles bodies and furniture. Unfortunately, the company could not survive the depression and went bankrupt in 1940.
Today, the buggy’s influence in Mifflinburg can still be seen in the preserved history at the Buggy Museum, the buggy traffic of the Amish and Mennonite and the logo of businesses and the town.