The J.G. Brill Company was founded in 1869
at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as J.G. Brill &
Company, by John George Brill (1817-1888) and his son, George
Martin Brill. The elder Brill had come to the United States in 1840 from
Germany, where he had learned the cabinetmaker?s trade in Bremen. He found
work at Murphy
and Allison?s Philadelphia car works, where he rose to the
position of foreman of the streetcar shop. In 1868/69 he left and started
his own car shop.
advertisement from the 1879 Car-Builders?
The firm initially built all kinds of cars:
horse-drawn streetcars, cable cars, and passenger cars for steam
railroads. But by the mid 1880s it was concentrating on the booming
As the firm prospered, it was chartered 1887 in
Pennsylvania as the J.G. Brill Company, and
soon relocated to a large plant on Philadelphia?s Woodland
In 1899 the company laid plans to consolidate
its own activities with those of several other firms into the
Consolidated Street Car Company, which would have absorbed 90% of
the electric car builders in the United States, but these plans were later
|This interesting coach was built by Brill in 1874
before it began concentrating on the streetcar market. Distinctive
features include the bow-top clerestory, small square windows and
large-radius corners. It may look familiar, as it was acquired by
the Paramount movie studios in 1938 and appeared in several films.
It was acquired by the Nevada Heritage Association in 1971 and is
now at the Nevada State Railroad Museum awaiting restoration. You
can read about it at their
Brill nevertheless acquired the entire capital
stock of several smaller manufacturers such as the American
Car Company, St. Louis, Missouri (1902), the G.C.
Kuhlman Car Company, Cleveland, Ohio (1904), the John
Stephenson Company, Elizabeth, New Jersey (1904) and the
Manufacturing Company, Springfield, Massachusetts (1906).
It operated all four of these companies under their own names as
Brill was also one of the leading companies in
the 1905 attempt to consolidate a large number of streetcar builders into
something akin to a ?trust? to reduce competition and thus improve profits
(though they denied this motivation). Unfortunately for Brill and the
others involved, they were a day late and a dollar short. Teddy Roosevelt
was making a name for himself as a trust-buster, and the effort just sort
of evaporated. You can read more about this at our page titled The
Streetcar Builders Consolidation.
Following the failure of the attempted
consolidation, Brill was incorporated in Pennsylvania 1 August 1906 and
organized on 6 February 1907. It thereafter acquired the majority of the
capital stock of the Danville
Car Company, Danville, Illinois
All these acquisitions gave the company
strategically located plants in most parts of the country. In 1912,
Compagnie J.G. Brill was formed with a plant at Paris, France, that
produced cars and trucks for electric lines overseas.
Ford/Brill ambulance ca.
In 1917, at the outset of the 1st World War,
Brill joined with J. G. White & Company to organize the Springfield
Aircraft Corporation, producing airplanes for the war effort. The
production of airplanes was completed at the end of 1918.
Stephenson Company plant in Elizabeth, NJ, was sold in
In 1920, the combined production of all these
plants in the production of electric and steam railway cars, trucks and
kindred appliances, approximated 3,700 cars and 14,000 trucks per annum.
Its principal plant in Philadelphia consisted of some 28 acres.
Every conceivable type of car was built by
Brill. A few of the more notable Brill designs were the patented Brill
Convertible Car, in which removable side panels made the
same car either opened or closed; the patented semi-convertible,
introduced in 1902, with roof pockets where both sashes lodged, one upon
the other; the ?Narragansett? car, an open car with a patented
two-step running board to facilitate boarding by women in tight skirts;
the heavy steel
high-speed articulated cars built in 1926 for the
Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis; and the lightweight,
high-speed Bullet cars (below) developed in
||Now restored and on display at the Orange Empire Railway
Museum, this Brill ?Bullet?
began service 1 March 1932 as #127 on the Fonda, Johnstown &
Gloversville. Note the interesting way the flat safety glass was
worked into the bullet nose. Curved safety glass would not be
perfected for another two years. (Gino DiCarlo
Brill had patents covering virtually every
component of car construction, from trucks to trolley wheels, and the firm
pioneered ?package? selling and assembly line
Corporation was formed in 1926 as a holding
company owning controlling stock in J.G. Brill Co. and the various Brill
electric car plants.
As the trolley industry began its decline in
the 1930's, Brill experienced hard times, reporting a $1 million loss in
1933. One by one the Brill plants closed, and production of trolley cars
ended at the Philadelphia plant in 1941, at least in part because it sold
only thirty of its new Brilliner
was an attempt to match the PCC car, a design collaboratively
developed by industry suppliers and major transit systems to
redefine the streetcar in the face of overwhelming automotive
competition. Similar in many respects to the PCC, the new car
featured styling and colors by famed designer Raymond Loewy,
well-known for his efforts on the Pennsylvania?s GG1 electrics.
Production of buses continued, and the Brill
interests were merged into ACF-Brill Motors, Inc., in July 1944. ACF-Brill
Motors itself ceased business in 1954.
Cars.? Special Bulletin
Number Sixteen. Motor Bus Society, Inc., ca. 1960.
Electric Cars and
Trucks. Philadelphia, PA: J.G. Brill Company, 1895; Reprint
Forty Fort, PA: Harold E. Cox, 1971.
This is a reprint of Brill?s 1895 catalog. 88
Industry in Philadelphia, 1926.? NRHS
Bulletin Vol. 52, Is. 2, 1987
?Lightweight Cars: 1923 Brill
Catalog.? Electric Railway
Historic Society Bulletin 47. Chicago, IL: Electric
Railway Historical Society, 19__.
20 pages of lightweight cars from Brill?s 1923
Brill, Debra. History of the J. G. Brill Company.
Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 2001
Foesig, Harry. Brill Deck Roof Trolley Cars. Forty
Fort, PA: Harold Cox publisher, 1973.
Covers the classic Brill cars, electric car, trucks,
bottom framing, windows, roofs, open platform, closed platform and
painting. 52 pages, b/w photos.
Last Run: The Brilliner. National Railway Historical Society
Stephenson/Lisbon Trolley. New
Jersey Transportation Heritage Center. Car No. 346 operated in Lisbon,
Portugal until 1996 - 90 years after it departed New
Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The J. G. Brill
Company Records, 1877-1930. On-line
description of holdings.