By Richard I. Gibson
A new car for Christmas? In 1919, Velie Motors of Butte, at 404 S. Arizona, had what you wanted, if you could afford it.
The Velie Carriage Company of Moline, Illinois, was established in 1902 by Willard Velie, grandson of John Deere. In 1908, the company became the Velie Motor Vehicle Company, and it made cars until 1928. Velie was a mid-priced auto, at around $1,800 compared to the Ford Model T, which cost $345 to $525 in the middle 1910s, and the American Motor Car Company (not the same as the later American Motors) “American” at $3000 in 1906. The Velie could do 70 miles per hours, according to the caption in the photo above.
Velie’s peak production year was 1920, when they made about 9000 vehicles; they averaged about 5,000 cars a year. Both the founder and his son died, in October 1928 and March 1929, respectively, and the company was out of business. Today, only 230 Velies are known to exist.
The Velie dealer in Butte in 1919 was Northwestern Motor Sales Co. at 404-406 South Arizona, on the east side of the street just below the corner of Porphyry. Their garage had a 26-car capacity and their steam heat was generated by their own boiler. Today, this intersection does not exist; Porphyry Street and the site of Northwestern Motor Sales are part of Silver Bow Homes.
Northwestern Motor’s manager in 1918 was Isaac Wheeler, who lived at 316 N. Excelsior. He was also an insurance agent with an office at 209 West Park Street.
In 1918 Butte had 28 businesses listed under “Automobile manufacturers, dealers and repairers.” Probably at least 10 of them were auto dealers as we’d think of it today; some were agents who probably took orders rather than having a real showroom.
Charles T. Jennings, the photographer who made the photo above, worked for the B.E. Calkins Company, dealers in office supplies and picture frames at Broadway and Main, southeast corner; Benjamin E. Calkins lived in room 503 at the Mueller Apartments. Jennings lived at 522 Franklin Street, a house that is still standing – I can see it out my north window as I type this.
Resources: Anaconda Standard, March 23, 1919; Sanborn maps; city directories; online information about Velie Motor Vehicle Company.