This article comes from a book published be the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Cleveland Automobile Club entitled Golden Wheels, The Story of the Automobiles Made in Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio, 1892-1932 by Richard Wager. We have added the pictures.
The Riddle Manufacturing Company, Ravenna, Ohio, had a long history in making horse-drawn coaches and hearses and in 1912 turned to making bodies for gasoline-powered vehicles. This led to Riddle's manufacture of specialized vehicles, including some automobiles designed without a center post on the right side so as to accommodate wheelchair passengers or other invalids. The company used the phrase "established in 1831" on its nameplate and in its sales literature, that having been the year a predecessor concern owned by N. D. Clark, began making carriages in Ravenna.
Henry Riddle was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, February 8, I838. Left motherless at an early age, he worked at odd jobs and at age thirteen apprenticed himself to the carriage builder's trade. After some travels, during which he pursued his trade, he located in 1861 at Ravenna, thirty-eight miles southeast of Cleveland. He and a brother-in-law bought the Clark plant and for thirty years operated it as the partnership of Merts & Riddle. In 1891 Riddle bought out his partner and organized the Riddle Coach & Hearse Company. With its venture in gasoline-powered vehicles the concern became the Riddle Manufacturing Company, and Henry Riddle remained president until his death in 1920 at age eighty-two. It says something of the man and his times that he was known to young and old in and about Ravenna as "Uncle Henry."
The initial production of hearse bodies was under contract with the White Company of Cleveland. The bodies were made in Ravenna and mounted on White gasoline-powered truck chassis. The vehicles were sold by White through its wide sales organization. Meanwhile, Riddle continued making horse-drawn funeral carriages. About 1913, ambulances were added to the Riddle body line and for two or three years were manufactured for the White chassis. By that time the business of the Riddle company had reached a volume great enough to prompt its management to go into assembling complete units. The first Riddle motor vehicles appeared about 1916.
From 1916 to 1920, funeral cars were the main line of the Riddle company, though later in that period a combination ambulance-hearse was also offered. The latter had a particular sales market with undertakers in small cities and towns that were otherwise without ambulance service. Such vehicles presented a problem to the manufacturer, however, since not only did the decor and ornamental appointments for users of a vehicle of such dual purpose have to be chosen carefully, but also the engine had to be one that could move the car slow enough to "creep" in a funeral procession, yet fast and powerful enough to perform emergency service as an ambulance.
It was in 1919 or 1920 that the Riddle passenger car first appeared. It was a seven-passenger sedan. Besides lacking a center body post on the right side, the car's rear section was designed for quick change from extra-passenger to wheelchair accommodation or could accommodate a full-length, emergency bed. Sales were aimed toward funeral directors, the cars being advertised for their "public and private use, . . . by [their] family or patrons." Advertising apparently was directed to no other segment of the public. Only a few were made, and those on special order. While some other automobile manufacturers made similarly designed passenger cars that could be converted to use as invalid cars. the Riddle was said to have been lower-paced. Limousines, presumably to carry pallbearers, were added to the line in 1921 or 1922. Prices for the Riddles ranged from $4,850 for the seven-passenger sedan and eight-passenger limousine to $5,500 for the nine-passenger limousine.
The earlier Riddle cars were powered with a Continental 9-N engine (six cylinders, with 3 I/2-inch bore, 5 I/4-inch stroke) rated at 29.4 horse power. Similar engines were used in several other cars of the period, including Vogue, Bour-Davis, Jordan, and Ferris. The transmission was the standard three speeds forward and a reverse. Fuel feed was by vacuum tank. The wheelbase was 143 inches, "permitting short turning radius, good riding qualities and more power," said the 1920 catalog for Riddle Motor Funeral Vehicles.' At first, the wheels were artillery type, made of "second-growth hickory"; these were changed to disk wheels in 1923 and later models. The 1920 Riddles had an instrument board with carburetor adjustment and oil-pressure gauge in addition to electrical switches, speedometer, and ammeter. The catalog boasted that "a neat foot accelerator is provided with a comfortable heel rest." The company also extolled its quality care and service. "We maintain at all times complete parts and expert service men," the catalog stated, adding:
Every RIDDLE chassis is given a road test before being painted or having the body mounted on it, of not less than 200 miles. Before shipment it rereceives another 50 miles, with the result that faults common to most new cars do not appear in the RIDDLE. For the convenience of our patrons and in order to back up our reputation for SERVICE as well as QUALITY, we maintain a stack of parts complete in detail for every car we have in service. We make it a matter of pride that every order for service or parts is attended to THE SAME DAY IT IS RECEIVED.
An order for Service Man or Parts in the RIDDLE factory is a PREFERRED ORDER taking precedence over everything. If it is a part it is at once wrapped and tagged and hustled to the Post Office or Express Company and started toward you without delay. If it is a Service Man he is made ready with necessary parts and tools and sent on the first available train.
All panel work was of wood; the removable hearse table and floral rack were of solid cherry. Carvings were all hand cut from "solid water-seasoned yellow poplar;" there being "no stamped or machine work on Riddle carvings." The "nurse-seat" supports, antirattlers, fasteners, door latch, and handles were of heavy nickel-plated brass.
In 1923, the Continental 9-A six-cylinder, 33.75 horse-power engine (3 3/4-inch bore, $-inch stroke) was adopted by Riddle. Prices of funeral cars powered by this motor were, for a straight hearse, $4,350; for a casket wagon, $4,500; and for a carved hearse, $4,600. From then until the end of production in 1926 the Continental 9-A engine was supplied and prices remained the same.
Al the funeral of President Warren G. Harding in August, 1923, in Marion, Ohio, a Riddle hearse was used to carry the chief executive's last remains. (A horse-drawn Riddle carriage had been used for President William McKinley's funeral in September, 1901.) The hearse used for President Harding's funeral was loaned by the Riddle company to the Marian funeral director, though it was later delivered to an undertaking company of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In 1924 an ambulance was added to the line, priced at $5,850. It was the company's first complete vehicle for strictly ambulance purpose. The price was also the highest the company was to place on its products. The Riddle ambulances of 1924 and 1925 were the final models built before production ended in 1926.
Following the death of Henry Riddle in 1920, his son, H. Warner Riddle, headed the company. The need, forced by competition, to change from proudly hand-crafted production to assembly-line techniques posed a costly problem which led to the end of the Riddle. A loan from a local bank resulted in the bank president being made president of Riddle Manufacturing Company; H. Warner Riddle was elevated to chairman of the board.
Henry W. Riddle II as mayor
The sudden death of the president's son in front of the Riddle plant, in 1926, may have been a factor in the bank's recalling its loan. Forced into voluntary bankruptcy, the company paid off all its debts, but found it necessary to go out of business.
Riddle went on to become a pillar in the community as a gentleman farmer. He, too, became a bank president; his efforts led to the building of a new hospital in Ravenna, and he served as head of its board of trustees for a number of years. He died in 1963.
I. Marvin, Keith, "The Riddle of Ravenna," Automobile in, July, 1960, pp. 3-10. 20-26.
2. See p. 65.
3. Reprinted with "Riddle of Ravenna," Automobilist July, 1960, pp. I I-19.