By Mary Giorgio
In the early days of the automobile, Indiana was a hotbed of innovation. Numerous small automobile companies sprang up across the Hoosier state. Rather than being driven by profit and mass appeal, they were creative, forward-thinking companies. Most were driven by the dreams of race car drivers and engineers. Though innovative, few of these companies were profitable, and most survived only a few years.
In Indiana, Logansport became home to at least four automotive companies between 1898 and 1926. In 1898, Edwin Rutenber began producing a four-cylinder engine in the city. After the venture had proved unprofitable, he channeled his engineering experience into the manufacture of electric appliances. Vincent Bendix opened his Logansport automobile factory in 1908. He produced two models—the Duplex and the Bendix—for two years, before relocating to Kentucky. In 1914, Don Six and Claire Vance began production of a wind wagon, an automobile propelled with a 40-inch wooden propeller.
The most intriguing story of the era, however, is that of the ReVere Motor Company. It has all the makings of a Hollywood hit: an ambitious race car driver, an innovative design, a dream to build a great American automobile, and a villain who got in the way.
The ReVere Motor Company was founded by Adolph Monsen, an engineer, inventor, and former automobile racer. Monsen was born in Norway in 1868 and began his professional career as a blacksmith. After immigrating to the United States in 1891, he designed bicycles for a time in Chicago before following his dream of designing automobiles.
Monsen designed cars for several automotive manufacturers in Chicago before becoming affiliated with the Marion Motor Car Co. He began racing in Marion automobiles shortly thereafter, appearing in races across Indiana.
In 1917, Monsen decided to strike out on his own. He had always dreamed of building a successful, high-performance vehicle. With the help of friends and fellow racers, Tim Rooney and Gil Anderson, Monsen flushed out the designs for his new line of automobiles.
What Monsen didn’t have was a strong background in business or good judgment in choosing his partners. Before long, he had formed a partnership with Newton Van Zantz. At the time they met, Van Zantz was the Vice-President of Hobart-Cable Piano Company of LaPorte, Indiana. Although he had never worked in the automotive industry, Van Zantz convinced Monsen that he would be an asset to the company. Van Zantz would later reveal himself to be an experienced confidence man, and the revelation would destroy all Monsen’s hopes and dreams for his automobile brand.
The two men incorporated the ReVere Motor Company in 1917. The brand was named after the famed patriot, Paul Revere. Logansport was selected as the enterprise’s new home after Van Zantz convinced the Greater Logansport Club (a group of local businessmen similar to a chamber of commerce) to purchase a 35,000 square-foot abandoned lumberyard and mill at a cost of $22,000 and give it to the new automotive enterprise.
Left in charge of all financial aspects of the business, Van Zantz next sought investors among the locals. His favored scheme to encourage investment involved a complicated system of creating fictitious dealer syndicates across the country, then placing phony orders for vehicles to make the business look profitable. In 1919, he told ReVere investors an eastern syndicate had placed a lucrative order for 1,000 automobiles with a deal in the works for a long-term contract. This way, the fraudulent Van Zantz collected a bounty of additional investments.
Meanwhile, blissfully unaware Van Zantz was operating in his own self-interest, Monsen was hard at work designing and building the company’s first prototype. Fitted with a Model G Duesenberg engine (one of the best racing engines of the day), the prototype, nothing more than a bare chassis, was taken for a test drive around Logansport on August 25, 1917. It was later fitted with an aluminum body, modern hubcaps, a unique double steering wheel, and a luxurious leather interior. The car’s stylish arched radiator shell became its trademark feature.
Monsen’s design could hit a maximum speed of 85 mph and a maximum horsepower of 103, giving it the highest output of any American car on the market at that time. Still not satisfied, he soon began tinkering with the Duesenberg engine, eventually tweaking it design and labeling the new motor the “Monsen engine.”
Unlike most successful automobile manufacturers, Monsen didn’t use a production line. Each car was lovingly assembled by hand. As a result, ReVere cars were substantially more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts, running upwards of $3,850 (approx. $100,000 today). Production of these cars started out small, and most models produced in the company’s first two years of operation were custom jobs.
With his unique automobile ready to debut in 1918, Monsen hired famed Indiana driver Cannonball Baker to embark on a highly publicized endurance test. Baker drove a four-passenger ReVere automobile across 48 states and over 16,234-miles. Seeking to build on the momentum gained from Baker’s trip, the company began advertising their automobile as “America’s Incomparable Car.”
While its high price tag put off many potential buyers, the vehicle caught the attention of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. He became the most famous person to order a ReVere automobile: a custom-built white Sport Victoria. A replica was later sold to Charles Paddock, an automobile dealer from Cleveland. Paddock exhibited the famous car at the 1920 Cleveland Auto Show.
By the end of 1920, Monsen was ready to build on his momentum and launch two new models for 1921. Little did he know that the company was in dire financial straits. Van Zantz quietly skipped town, supposedly retiring from the company, just as its financial troubles were coming to light. In December 1920, several parts suppliers sued ReVere in state court for nonpayment. In January 1921, the Cass County Courts appointed Citizens Loan and Trust Company of Logansport as receivers for the Revere Motor Company. In October 1922, the Cass Circuit Court declared the company bankrupt.
Meanwhile, Van Zandt was busy with a new scheme. He incorporated a new automobile company and in 1921 was caught in New York City trying to pass off ReVere cars as his own design. A lawsuit was filed, but Van Zantz was never brought to justice. With his case still pending, he died of a heart attack in New York City in 1923.
Monsen later reorganized his company under the name ReVere Motors Company and attempted to turn things around. He continued to experiment with innovative designs all the way up until the company ran out of money in 1926. It is unknown how many cars Monsen ultimately produced, but estimates range from 250 on the low end to as many as 2,700.
After closing his car company in 1926, Monsen remained in Logansport for a number of years before eventually returning to Chicago. He died there in 1946.
Despite its short history, the ReVere Motor Co. made its mark on innovative automobile design. The ReVere has been listed in the Classic Car Club of America’s List of Full Classic Cars for decades. Today, fewer than 10 ReVere automobiles are known to exist. In 1997, the Cass County Historical Society purchased one of these rare automobiles for their collection. The classic car still gets out on the road occasionally, most recently to lead a parade celebrating its 100th anniversary.