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Reference \ Car Builders \ Kimball Carriage & Car Mfg. Company

Kimball Carriage & Car Mfg. Company.

Kimball Manufacturing Company.
George Kimball, 1853-1878.

George Kimball built everything from railroad cars to carriages and even furniture. He is credited with the construction of the first stage coach built on the west coast. Kimball came to California from Massachusetts in 1851. He initially started his business in Sacramento, but moved to San Francisco in 1853 after losing his shop to fire. The business was diverse. He operated what was known as a “carriage depot” which offered services including carriage and wagon manufacturing, repairs, storage, sales, rentals, and all manner of accessories such as harness, buggy whips, lap blankets, carriage lamps and more. He had a series of partners, culminating in 1865 when R. L. Ogden, an associate of William Ralston joined the firm. With the backing of Ralston's Bank of California Kimball planned to become a major car builder. Ralston believed that he could land orders for freight and passenger cars from the Central Pacific Railroad. The factory they built at 4th and Bryant in 1868 was huge. The new factory included steam powered machinery. It was reported that he was producing 100 vehicles each month, (mostly wagons) and had sales as high as $3,000,000 per year. The company incorporated in 1869.

Production included everything from light wagons and surreys, carts, various stage coaches and excursion wagons to heavy ore wagons for the Comstock, a highly decorated band wagon and even a steam fire engine.

He received orders for railroad cars from the Virginia & Truckee (controlled by William Ralston), the North Pacific Coast, and the Los Angeles and San Pedro (controlled by associates of Ogden) among others. Many of these orders were to businesses that were part of Ralston’s Bank of California ring. Ralston was a proponent of California produced goods, and would help organize other companies producing watches and furniture, which would also share space in the large factory on 4th and Bryant. The “California manufacture” movement seems to have influenced the car work at Kimball, with a newspaper reporting:

“Kimball & Co. of this city, have completed the train of cars… The train consists of two passenger coaches, a smoking and baggage car, each of which is a model. The passenger cars in particular are such. They are all native productions, the design of the manufacturers having been to demonstrate that cars can be made in this state which are superior to the same class in the east, and the cost less than the later. The wood, and iron work, mechanical and ornamental, the plating and glass cutting and staining were all executed here - laurel and maple constituting the principal of the wood ornaments. The iron for the heavier portions of the cars was furnished by the Pacific Rolling Mills and was wrought at the forges of the Car Company. The wheels, for all except the baggage car, were cast at Risdon Iron Works. The coaches and smoking car are the only cars on this coast which have the six-wheeled truck. The trucks are furnished with Dinsmore's patent spiral spring, said to be the easiest riding spring in use. The baggage car runs on steel wheels which were imported from France as an experiment. The lighter and ornamental iron castings for the interior and exterior portions of the cars were manufactured by Savage & Son, of the Empire Foundry, and are of the most modern and approved patterns. The glass-cutting for the windows, doors and ventilators was executed by John Malloy, of this city; the nickel-plating by the Company in its own factory.” - The San Francisco Bulletin.

By 1870, Kimball had hired Samuel Atkinson, the Car and Road Master of the San Francisco and San Jose to be his car shop superintendent. Atkinson brought significant railroad car experience to the firm, and his knowledge of car building is reflected in their later work, particularly in the construction of the sleeping car “Siempre Viva”. Ralston’s death, and the failure of the Bank of California, in 1875, lead to Kimball abandoning the large works, for a smaller facility across the street.

Most of his railroad production was street-cars, both horse and cable powered, many of which were exported all over the west, some as far away as Japan . Kimball was sued into bankruptcy by a coalition of creditors possibly lead by agents of the Central Pacific Railroad in August 1878. The court later dismissed many of the claims, and the bankruptcy, but the business was effectively destroyed.

Significant cars included flat cars, cabooses and passenger cars built for the Virginia and Truckee R.R., “Siempre Viva”, a sleeping car, lost in the Chicago fire while on an extended tour of the US, Millwood, the officer’s car for the North Pacific Coast, a private car for San Francisco industrialist and railroad owner Peter Donahue, as well as the Clay Street Railroad’s cars, the world’s first cable cars.


White, John H. “George Kimball: A Pacific Coast Car Builder.” Railroad History, Bulletin 138, Spring 1978.
MacGregor, Bruce. Birth of California Narrow Gauge


National City (California) Public Library. A Guide to the Kimball Family Collection 1854-1934.

California Historical Society, Primary documents of the gold rush era, selected from the North Baker Research Library collection in San Francisco:
OGDEN, RICHARD LIVINGSTON (l825?-l9OO). PAPERS, n.d. 1/2 box. Two autobiographical sketches by Ogden, dealing with the Mexican War, where he served as Assistant Quartermaster of the Department of the Pacific, and his later life in San Francisco and California. Ogden established the firm of Ogden and Haynes, commission merchants in San Francisco in the early l85Os, and was one of the founders of the Kimball Carriage and Car Manufacturing Company in the 1860s and 1870s. He was also the first president of the reorganized San Francisco Yacht Club.


Photographs of equipment built by Kimball.
Items tagged "Kimball Manufacturing Co" in our gallery, collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Revised: March 7, 2017.
Reference \ Car Builders \ Kimball Carriage & Car Mfg. Company
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