In 1900, a bicycle manufacturer named Thomas Jeffery and his son bought a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin and began converting into an automobile plant. Jeffery sold the first of his Ramblers at an auto show on March 1, 1902, and by the end of the year they were producing upwards of fifteen hundred "Ramblers" each year. The company was moderately successful until Illinois born Charles W. Nash, a former executive at Buick and GM bought the company in 1916 after the death of the elder Jeffery. Having left both auto manufacturers over differences in company policy, he renamed the company after himself, and the Nash Motor Company was born.
Nash immediately set up branches in Milwaukee, Racine, and Pine Bluff, and by 1926 the Nash was the seventh largest seller in the U.S. market, despite its high cost. People just loved the car. Nash was a visionary in the automobile industry, seeing cars as not just a means of transportation but as an extension of person. The Nash Motor Company was light years ahead of the competition in innovation and manufacturing. They were the first to offer an optional electric clock, the first U.S. car to offer seat belts, under-hood air conditioning, and the first to sell a compact car in America. By 1941 the company offered a car getting 30 miles to the gallon, and the introduction of the Metropolitan in 1954, an automobile line manufactured entirely in England, resulted in a vehicle that could travel a startling 40 miles per gallon.
At the same time Nash was a shrewd businessman, maximizing profits while keeping workers happy. By 1932 the Nash Motor Company was posting profits six times that of General Motors. A merger with the Kelvinator appliance company bolstered profits for both units. At the same time the company's workers were some of the highest paid in America - in 1940 they became the first major employer to offer employees wages of $1 an hour. Nash pioneered unit-body construction in its AirFlyte vehicle... and it only took 40 years for other automakers to catch on.
After World War II, during which Nash turned over its plants for the war effort, the Big Three automakers stepped up efforts to be the big players in the industry. As an independent, Nash foresaw the battle that would arise, and tried to convince automakers Hudson, Packard, and Studebaker to merge into a Big Fourth. His attempted dealings were ignored and his death in 1948 all but ended any chances of survival. As the fifties rolled along, Ford and Chevrolet began introducing completely remodeled cars each and every year. Despite the rare and sought-after Nash-Healey roadster, and a popular reintroduction of the Rambler, complete with loads of standard features like a clock, a radio, a heater, and turn signals, Nash couldn't keep up. In 1954 the company bought Hudson to become the American Motor Company.
AMC continued the Nash and Hudson lines until 1957 and later introduced the Rambler again, along with cars such as the Gremlin, Pacer, Eagle, and Javelin, but the company was relegated to playing second fiddle to the big boys. The company acquired Kaiser-Jeep in 1970 and partnered with Renault in the late 70's, but the writing was on the wall. AMC was purchased by Chrysler in 1987, who closed the long-running Kenosha plant the following year. The proud company that was once Wisconsin's largest employer made cars no longer.