The Riddle Coach and Hearse Company of Ravenna, Ohio has a long history dating back to 1831 when it began as the Clark Carriage Company, owned by N.D. Clark. The Clark Carriage Company was bought in 1861 by brothers-in-law, Charles Merts and Henry W. Riddle, my great-grandfather. He was 22 years old. The new name became the Merts and Riddle Coach and Hearse Company.
Charles, a fine tool maker and wood worker, supervised the factory while Henry went on the road, selling. He would take a string of vehicles and not return until they were sold.
The men upgraded the coaches to a high level and introduced the hearses. Artisans from around the world were brought in to do fine wood carving and trimming. All of the construction was done by hand in the Ravenna factory. In 1891, Merts sold his share of the business to Riddle and again the name changed, this time to Riddle Coach and Hearse. When the company began producing motorized vehicles, the name again changed to Riddle Manufacturing Company.
The Riddle hearses became known for their fine quality. Presidents McKinley and Harding were carried to their graves in Riddle hearses. In 1998 Roy Rogers was buried in a restored Riddle Hearse.
Motorized hearses, including ambulances were made at the factory beginning about 1911. In the mid-1920s the factory needed to change from proudly hand-crafted production to assembly line techniques if it was to keep up with the competition. After some family in-fighting, such a major change was deemed too costly and in 1926 the factory closed.
We have a picture of motorized hearses in front of the coach and hearse factory and also a picture of a funeral procession of coaches and hearses. The company had at least some international exposure in that they produced a Spanish language poster to be distributed in Mexico and central America; we have the English version of that poster here.
Additionally we have various catalogs of hearses and coaches.
We do not know a lot about the day-to-day operations of the business. However, we do have many of the business letters from March 1908.
To see recent photos of a 1891 hearse, untouched since stored in 1903, click here. We also have pictures of a recently restored hearse in Oak Harbor, Ohio that is now being used.
Henry Riddle, who died in 1920, did not trust the banks; that was one reason he spent his money building "The Riddle Blocks" in downtown Ravenna. His masterpiece was Riddle Block #1, completed in 1890.
Recently my cousin, Tom Riddle, who makes his living as a computer consultant, and I assembled pictures from the factory and several complete catalogs from the old Riddle Coach and Hearse Company. We then scanned those, annotated them, and gave everything a HTML index. The DVD, for the PC only, is for sale. For information about ordering the DVD or just to exchange "old hearse and coach stories," you are welcome to write me, Betsy Whitmore "firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you come to Ravenna, Ohio , you can find an intact Merts and Riddle Coach and Hearse Company hearse at the Portage Country Historical Society Museum .
On the DVD are are number of articles about Ravenna. We are pleased to present most of those articles here, which will give readers insight into the coach and hearse industry and Ravenna history.