The Magor Car Corporation may not be the best known of America’s car builders, but it had many important achievements to its credit in its sixty-five year history. Located in Clifton, New Jersey, the builder produced everything from diminutive narrow gauge cars for export to record-breaking covered hoppers.
What would become Magor Car began as an 1899 partnership between Basil Magor and Robert Wonham. In 1902 the two men incorporated as the Wonham-Magor Engineering Works. That company would become Magor Car Company in 1910 and Magor Car Corporation in 1917. Incidentally, it’s properly pronounced “May-gor.”
The new company emerged at a pivotal time in the history of car builders. 1899 saw the consolidation of thirteen smaller builders into American Car and Foundry. It was just the first and largest of a growing trend. Over the next two decades, a handful of large companies like AC&F, Pullman Standard, North American Car and General American would come to dominate the marketplace.
The consolidation came with good reason. The first decades of the 20th Century also marked the beginning of the switch from wood to steel in car construction. Even composite cars with steel frames would require larger facilities to produce and greater production runs to secure economies of scale than the early family run shops could support.
Basil Magor himself would leave the company in 1911 and go on to found the National Steel Car Corporation of Canada. NSC would go on to become one of Canada’s largest car builders and is still in business today. Basil’s brother Robert Magor would take over the reigns in New Jersey and not-surprisingly, a good cooperation existed between the two companies through Magor’s inclusion in Fruehauff in 1964.
Yet in the midst of this change, there was still room for a smaller builder like Magor to make a name for itself. Most of its orders would come from the jobs too small for the large shops to want. These “cast offs” included industrial, mining and export cars but also orders which were simply beyond the capacity of larger builders in peak times.
For the first fifty years, Magor Car’s primary business was export cars. Proximity to New York harbors and a willingness to take on small orders and innovate helped the company. Unable to go head-to-head with an ACF or Pullman on large orders for big American customers, it hunted out other “niche” products for which it could compete. These included sugar-cane cars for Cuba, steel cabooses, car repair / rebuilding services, pneumatic side dump cars and later, aluminum-bodied covered hoppers.
The company also handled many government and military contracts including USRA drop-bottom gondola cars and a 250 ton-capacity car for carrying Naval guns during World War I. Between the wars, Magor became the largest builder of export freight cars in the country, capturing better than 40% of that market. Following the war, Magor’s car orders are a window into our foreign policy; 1,000 cars for Russia under Lend-Lease, 3,000 for France as part of the Marshal Plan, then 5,000 for the US Government for shipment to Korea in the 1950s.
Post War Years
In addition to government contracts and exports, Magor saw increases in its domestic production following WWII. And by 1959 its innovative thinking would open up a new line of production.
Partnering with Reynolds Metals and the Southern, Magor completed the first mass-produced composite aluminum – steel cars in the U.S. This was an order for 455 covered hoppers in 1959. Over the coming years, Magor would emerge as a leader in this construction method with more than 5000 aluminum cars built by 1971. Most notable of the cars were the subsequent “Big John” covered hoppers for the Southern. (Read about these history-making cars in this past blog!)
These new lines offset declining export sales, which were discontinued entirely in 1963. In 1964, Magor was sold to Fruehauf Corporation. Fruehauf expanded and standardized the product line and in 1968 the new owners enlarged the plant, planning for additional capacity.
Things looked bright through the first years of the 1970s with major gondola and boxcar orders to fill for Penn Central. But these would end up being the last new cars built at Magor. With the freight car market entering a downturn, Fruehauf pulled out in 1973. Some assets were sold to other builders, but aside from rail cars which still ply the rails in the USA and around the globe, little remains of Magor’s corporate legacy. Ever the underdog, Magor proved that with innovation and resourcefulness, even a small company could have a big impact on railroad history.