The motor car craze hit the entire nation in the early 1900s and 1910s, with countless automotive builders popping up in almost every mid-size town in the USA. In Reading, Pennsylvania, the industry was particularly prosperous. Reading manufacturers had easy access to the raw materials needed. Iron ore was local and prolific, and the Schuylkill River and Reading Railroad made importing materials relatively easy.
One of these Reading companies was the Middleby Automobile Company, founded in 1908 by Joseph Middleby and his sons Charles and Harry. The Middlebys purchased the former Duryea factory located at River and Elm Streets. Charles Duryea himself was a notable automotive pioneer who built cars in Reading for eight years before bankruptcy forced him to sell the business. Local iron magnate Herbert Sternbergh was made president of Middleby.
Middleby cars were built in that River & Elm Streets factory until 1913. Framed in “armored and trussed” ash or oak, the Middleby had a 3-speed forward, 1-speed reverse transmission and came in two different model types—the Model A and Model B. Middlebys also featured something more unique than most—an air-cooled engine. This 4-cylinder 201 cubic inch 25 horsepower inline engine was patterned after Duryea’s design, with some influence taken from the Franklin automobile, the largest producer of air-cooled automobile engines. Middleby advertised that air-cooling was the “natural and simple” method. There was no need for the extra weight of a radiator pump, pipes, tank, and water-jacket.
Middleby, like so many other automobile companies of the time, fell into bankruptcy in 1913 and all equipment was sold off to a company that specialized in purchasing defunct car manufacturers. Few examples remain, but one can be seen on display at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles located at 85 S Walnut St, Boyertown, PA 19512. Visit boyertownmuseum.org for more information.
By Kendra Cook, Executive Director of the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, and Dan Olsen, Board Member of the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles