S. R. Bailey
His Years as a Carriage Maker
Taken from Margaret Rice's Book, Sun on tne River, the History of the
Samuel Robinson Bailey was born in East Pittston, ME in 1836, the son of
Samuel and Mary Marble Bailey. From the time that he was old enough to remember, he was
facinated by the beauty of the sleighs that were used for winter travel. As a young boy,
he would hang around the sleigh and carriage shops. He had a keen mind and he would
observe the way that they were made and he began to think that he could build better
sleighs, Sometimes he would skip school to use his father's tools that were use for
repairing the family sleigh and carriage. He began to sketch out his ideas on his sister's
scrap book paper. By the time he was eighteen, he concluded that his sleigh would be
better than any other sleigh.
With his parent's approval, he set out on a cold March day with his work
rolled up under his arm and traveled by trainto Portland to show his drawings to the city
carriage makers. One after the other, they refused to see him or told him to continue
school and do more work. The Bailey Carriage Company, dealer in carriage parts and
no relation to the young boy spoke to the boy, but told him to go home and work more on
his drawings. He finally came to a gentleman who only made a few sleighs a year. When this
gentleman saw his drawings, he told Samuel that if he were his age, he would make the
carriage himself and told him to go home and do it.
With the help of his friend, James Merrill, who did his iron work, he
spent all of his free time working on the sleigh. He made all the parts himself and they
were done to perfection, just as his father had taught him. He entered his sleigh in
the 1855 October Carriage Makers Show in Portland and the won Best in Show. He returned
home and opened his S. R. Bailey Sleigh and Carriage Manufactory in his home town. His
sleighs were not of the ordinary and with their harmonious lines and curves, they were a
thing of beauty. There were no sharp points.
In 1866, he had outgrown his shop in Pittston and with his wife, Mary and
family, they moved to Bath. His employees now totaled nineteen. He was the only man in
charge. His belief was "If it can be better, then it was not good enough". From
the beginning, he made all of his parts exactly the same and one could be fitted on any of
his sleighs and carriages. He invented and patented the tools that he used. He also
invented other tools and one of these was a cheese slicer.
As one can see by this
advertisement, he was also making and selling parts. Eventually, his parts were being sold
throughout the country, including the Studebaker Carriage Co.
He made a veneer cutting machine so he could laminate wood panels for the
curves of his vehicles. The same method is used today in making plywood. He was a great
believer in using bent wood for his sleighs and carriages. Bent wood was much stronger
than sawed pieces cut to fit. One of the his inventions was a metal coupler that fastened
the spring to the body to keep the carriage from swayng back and forth. This was
considered the greatest invention in the trade. The swaying had caused many deadly
He invented the wood
rounder machine so that all of the poles and axles would be the same and could be made
This bent wood machine was
his invention and was used by furniture makers worldwide. A large number were exported to
Austria for they were known as experts in the trade.
After staying in Bath for six years, he wanted to be able to promote his
inventions worldwide, but he needed to be associated with a firm that specialized in doing
so. He joined the firm of E. A. and O.S. Gillet, a large wood working firm in Boston,
to promote and develope his various inventions and appliances, but he soon learned
that by being a salaried employee, his inventions were credited to the firm. He was his
own man and he wanted to be his own master and two years later, the firm of Wood, Bailey,
and Wood was organized. The firm built the Bailey Portland sleigh that was recognized as
one of the best sleighs built and was written about in all the trade magazines.
Four years with the firm constantly trying to convince his partners that
perfection was worth the price, he decided to go at it alone and with his wife's blessing,
they moved to the carriage making capitol of the world, Amesbury, MA. The first carriage
to be built in America was in Amesbury in 1800. When Bailey and his family arrived in
1882, there were twenty-five carriage firms. Amesbury had a reputation for the best built
carriages and were exported world wide by ships made in there. There were one thousand
carriage workers in a town of ten thousand residents making ten thousand carriages a year.
His family was warmly received and he set up shop on Elm Street. Edwin was admitted
to the firm and the name was changed to S. R. Bailey and Company.
In 1883, Edwin designed this sleigh with a glass windshield, the first
in the business. He had it patented. S. R. Bailey's last patent was for a hinged
windshield for the automobile in 1917 shortly before he died.
In 1888, a fire destroyed twenty-four buildings and eight carriage firms
on what was called Carriage Hill. The remaining firms helped all the destroyed ones until
they were able to continue building. Not one firm was closed down and 15,000 vehicles were
shipped that year.
Even though sleighs were S. R. Bailey's main concern, he also built
carriages and they became to be the best of the best in the country. In 1893, thirteen
firms sent their sleighs and carriages to The Columbia Exposition. The Bailey
shipped three examples of his Bailey Whalebone Road Wagon. It won the gold medal. It
became his biggest seller and he continued making it until around 1911.
1890's Runabout with bicycle wheels and his patented hinged glass
He was the first in the industry to use bicycle wheels on his carriages.
By 1898, the automobile was making inroads into the carriage making
industry and some carriage makers were also making automobiles. Up until now, the only
known record of Bailey's entrance into this field in 1898 is in Margaret Rice's book given
to me Bart Bailey, great grandson of S. R. Bailey, and I saw a reference to it and
starting researching the date. A reference to the date was found in Britannica
When the carriage industry was badly damaged by a worker's strike in 1903,
most of the smaller companies were forced out of business, but the larger ones began
making automobile bodies and Amesbury became known as the automobile body building capitol
of the world with its twenty-eight builders.The carriage workers and now the body workers
were known as the finest workers any where.
Carriage making continued until 1913 when Biddle and Smart built their