Discover Iowa’s hidden automotive history with pioneering brands like Maxen, Maytag, and Zip that once rivaled giants like Ford. Dive into a tale of innovation, ambition, and legacy.
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As we celebrate the 110th anniversary of three pioneering automotive manufacturers this year, we delve into their history, innovations, and ambitions.
All three were proudly built in Iowa, aiming to rival the likes of Henry Ford.
While today’s world instantly recognizes brands like Ford or Chrysler, automotive makers like Maxen, Maytag, and Zip once dreamt of making Iowa the heart of America’s car assembly line.
Maxen: The Innovator
Maxen was not just any car; it was a breakthrough.
Envisioned by a windmill designer in Cedar Rapids, often likened to today’s Elon Musk, this vehicle was far from conventional.
Powered by twenty-six batteries, this two-door speedster could reach speeds up to 20 m.p.h., all thanks to its electric motor that produced 48 volts.
Its unique underslung suspension system made it appear like it was slicing through the air, much like today’s race cars.
With its factory on Seventh Avenue in southwest Cedar Rapids, a Maxen car in 1912-13 would cost you $1,450.
Maytag: The Legacy
Before Maxen made waves, Frederick Maytag was already diversifying his washing machine business into the automotive world.
Maytag acquired the Mason Company, which had roots with pioneering engineers August and Fred Duesenberg.
Collaborating with businessman William Galloway, they took over a factory in Waterloo and began producing cars under the Maytag name by 1910.
The options ranged from a robust four-cylinder touring model priced at $1,750 to a more economical “Farmer’s Car” for $1,250. Sadly, by the end of 1915, the site turned into a parking lot and warehouse.
Zip: The People’s Car
In Davenport, a different vision was taking shape.
Realizing that $1,500 was quite a stretch for many, industrialist Frank Skinner and a team of businessmen were working on an affordable car named Zip.
This lightweight vehicle was anything but luxurious, focusing instead on basic transit needs.
For less than $400, you could own a Zip, capable of speeds up to 20 m.p.h.
Its debut prototype made a significant impression, running cross-country from the Quad Cities to New York.
However, with introducing the more affordable Ford Model T, Zip faced stiff competition and eventually had to close its doors.
The Legacy Lives On
Although names like Maxen, Mason, and Zip may have faded, their contributions to the early automotive industry in Iowa remain unforgettable.
For those curious about this rich history, the Center Point Historical Society is showcasing the final installment in its Planes Trains and Automobiles exhibit.
Do not miss the “Clash of the Titans: Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler and the Other Manufacturers of Automobiles in Iowa” presentation at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22, at the Historical Society Depot Museum in Center Point.