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The Electric Auto-Lite Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

The Electric Auto-Lite Company

List of Deals

The Electric Auto-Lite Company was incorporated in Ohio in May 1922 to purchase for cash and securities the assets of the Electric Auto-Lite Division of Willys Corporation. Electric Auto-Lite made parts, equipment, and accessories used in the manufacture of automobiles. The company grew rapidly in the first few years of its existence as a subsidiary of Willys and as the motorcar industry grew. In 1912 it produced 100 starting and lighting outfits per month. In 1920 it produced 100,000 per month. During the 1920s it was supplying parts for auto manufacturers such as Chevrolet Company, Durant Motors, Overland, Chalmers, and National.

In 1923, in its first full year of operation as an independent company, Electric Auto-Lite earned $2.5 million on sales of $14.5 million.

Over the years the company grew and broadened its product line by regularly purchasing other companies in the industry. Electric Auto-Lite acquired American Enameled Magnet Wire Company in 1923, and in March 1926 it bought the starting-lighting-ignition business of American Bosch Magneto Company and Gray & Davis, Inc.

Electric Auto-Lite was making more than 100,000 lighting and starting units per month for 115 different makes of car in 1927. It employed more than 4,000 people in its Toledo and Fostoria plants.

In 1928 the company bought USL Battery Corporation, Prest-O-Lite Storage Battery Corporation, Marko Storage Battery Corporation, and Wubco Battery Corporation. It also acquired interests in Eclipse Machine Company and the Columbus Auto Parts Company. In February 1929 Electric Auto-Lite added the storage battery division of Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Company, and in September it acquired control of J.W. Brown Manufacturing. During 1929 Electric Auto-Lite delivered one million generators to the Ford Motor Company. The company workforce expanded to 12,000, and sales in 1928 were nearly $50 million.

In 1932 Electric Auto-Lite sold 75 percent of its interest in Electric Auto-Lite of Delaware and all of its holdings in Fostoria Machine & Tool Company. In 1934 Electric Auto-Lite bought Moto Meter Gauge & Equipment Corporation, the Corcoran-Brown Lamp Company, and the Owen-Dyneto Corporation.

In May 1934 Electric Auto-Lite achieved some notoriety in a labor-management struggle that came to be known as the "Battle of Toledo." The company refused negotiations with striking workers and hired strikebreakers in the spring of 1934. A group of local socialist-affiliated unemployed workers joined the strikers, setting up mass picket lines. On May 23 the sheriff arrested several picket leaders, prompting the "Battle of Toledo." Ten thousand workers and their families blockaded the Auto-Lite factory, keeping the strikebreakers inside. Deputies used tear gas and water hoses to try to disperse the crowd, which rioted and set fire to the parking lot. The National Guard, dispatched to evacuate the strikebreakers, killed two protesters but failed to break the strike. Ultimately Auto-Lite closed the plant, agreed to recognize the union, rehired the strikers, and gave them a 5 percent wage hike. Almost simultaneous strikes in San Francisco and Minneapolis signaled a wave of labor militancy throughout the country.

Acquisitions continued through the 1930s. In 1935 Electric Auto-Lite acquired the Alemite Die-Casting & Manufacturing Company as well as the plants of Central Brass & Fixture Company of Springfield, Ohio. In 1936 it purchased Bay Rubber Company.

Beginning in 1937 the company began selling or dissolving many companies that it had acquired in past years. It sold its interest in Concealed Door Check Company and Earhart Door Check Company in 1937. In 1938 it dissolved Southwest Battery Corporation, and in 1939 it also dissolved Battery Distributing Corporation, Wubco Battery Corporation, USL Battery Sales Corporation of California, and Prest-O-Lite Battery Company. In 1942 Otto Warehouse and Perma-Maid Companies were also dissolved.

By 1945 Electric Auto-Lite manufactured more than 400 types of parts, including generators, lamps, horns, hubcaps, wiring, and seat adjustors. It was the largest independent manufacturer of automotive electrical equipment. Sales in 1945 were $124.4 million, up from $56.3 million in 1939.

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