Back when cars were all made by hand and ordered direct by customers through the mail, there was Missouri-based automaker who believed that his company’s reputation mattered more than profit. Check out the story behind the turn-of-the-century car company that set the standard for reliability and style during the Golden Age of The Automobile.
Moon Of Missouri
At the dawn of the motoring age, it seems now almost every town in America had their own independent automobile manufacturing company. Long before the Big Three dominated the auto industry, plucky upstarts across the country brought their own ideas (along with myriad hopes and dreams) to the burgeoning industry. While the majority would last little more than a few years, there are a number of car companies that survived beyond these early years.
Among these, the Moon Motor Car Company, one of nearly 100 automobile companies headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, at the time, lasted from 1905 to 1930. Where the majority of their fellow Midwestern manufacturers tended to fold or be absorbed by the competition within a little more than a few years, Moon managed to remain independent through the whole of its existence. Not only that, but the company built a name for itself based on the quality and craftsmanship of its product.
Great Car Of The Great Plains
Founded by Joseph Moon following a falling out with his brother, John, (with whom he had previously worked in the buggy business), the Moon Motor Car Company sought to capitalize on the burgeoning automobile market and America’s growing infatuation with these new motorized buggies. Rather than simply motorizing a traditional buggy design, Moon developed his first car in 1905 as a five-passenger touring car featuring a 35-hp engine and three-speed, sliding-gear transmission. Because of this, the “ideal American car” (as Moon deemed his creation) was initially priced at a cost prohibitive $3,000—nearly $79,000 in today’s dollars.
By 1909, the company had a handful of models on offer and sales began to take off. The following year, after having lowered the price to a slightly more affordable $1,500 to $2,000 (roughly $40,000 to $53,000 today), production began increasing exponentially. Where only 45 cars were manufactured by Moon Motors in 1906, by 1913 the company was manufacturing over 1,500. Soon after, Moon’s son-in-law, Steward McDonald, took over as vice-president of the company.
Playing to the public’s fascination with looks and styling and the growing infatuation with celebrity, McDonald sought to rebrand Moon cars for their “style, comfort and color” more so than their engineering. In this, McDonald proved a visionary in his approach to marketing and aesthetics. Among the more innovative approaches to growing the business, McDonald placed ads for the St. Louis-based company in the nationally distributed Saturday Evening Post.
Reaching a weekly audience of over two million readers, the Saturday Evening Post brought the elegance of the Moon to a broader audience, one with disposable income and an eye for good-looking automobiles. The epitome of these basic ideas can be seen in a period photograph showing actress Clara Bow, Hollywood’s “it girl” at the time and one of the most popular actresses of the silent film era, sitting astride a 1919 Moon.
During its prime, Moon Motor Car ads trumpeted the cars’ “striking contour, perfect proportions and distinguished appearance.” Along with their simple elegance, these cars were heralded for their having been “made but not built” and embodying “the combined engineering skill of the world” in every vehicle. While ad copy is often prone to hyperbole, these statements seemed well inline with the company’s public perception at the time.
The End Of An Era
When Joseph Moon died in 1919, McDonald took over the company, insisting that it remain free from debt. Unfortunately, this strict refusal to take on any debt saw the company begin to struggle as orders remained unfulfilled and production backed up due to outdated production methods. By the end of the next decade, the company was faced with dwindling profits and further resistance from New Era Motors’ Archie Andrews who requested Moon begin building a more expensive luxury vehicle to be known as the Ruxton. Forcing the car into production and seizing control of the company, Andrews’ actions weakened the leadership of the Moon Motor Car Company.
By 1930, faced with these multiple setbacks and the onset of the Great Depression, the Moon Motor Car Company was forced to shut its doors, thus putting an end to a veritable Golden Age of early motoring. Over a century later, the Moon remains a popular and rather rare automobile, its legacy maintained by the Moon Car Club.