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Houpt-Rockwell: Connecticut luxury

It is very likely that you will never see one of these cars at a car show, let alone read much about them, but the Houpt-Rockwell has a unique history, with a possible a connection to the famous yellow taxi cab tradition of New York City.
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DeWitt Page is pictured behind the wheel of this
Houpt-Rockwell automobile. It’s parked in front of the
office of the New Departure Manufacturing Co. in
Bristol, Conn. The woman and other gentlemen
are not identified.

While going through my collection of automobilia that I’ve saved all my life, I came upon some interesting photographs of an automobile produced in my hometown of Bristol, Conn. It’s not a popular automobile, and I’ve never seen one at a car show.

The company originated in the 1840s and was called The New Departure Manufacturing Co. Its first products were spring-wound bicycle bells, coaster brakes for bicycles and, eventually, shifted into automobiles for a short time with its most famous product, ball bearings.

The business was started by Albert F. Rockwell and his brother-in-law DeWitt Page. Automobiles were becoming popular, and the pair decided to build cars, with that enterprise named The Bristol Engineering Co. Their first car was produced in Bristol.

The car-building business did not last long, so they decided to produce ball bearings instead, which was a successful venture. The New Departure Manufacturing Co. was eventually purchased by United Motors, and all became part of General Motors Corp.

Eventually, the company shifted into producing other products, such as clutch bearings. During World War II, it produced a substantial amount of bearings for tanks and miniature instrument bearings for aircraft.
A number of Houpt-Rockwell automobiles were sold to the New York taxicab fleet. It’s claimed that Mrs. Page suggested that they be painted yellow, for distinction, and this was the catalyst for the Yellow Cab Co.
Bristol’s New Departure Division of General Motors eventually transferred all of its operations to Sandusky, Ohio, in the 1960s. The company’s buildings were then leased to small manufacturing companies. The main office of New Departure still stands, although it has been renovated and now contains doctors’ offices.

I know there are not many people left who can remember Houpt-Rockwell automobiles.

Additional history of Rockwell
In addition to Mr. Carleton’s fascinating background on Albert F. Rockwell, it’s interesting to note that The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, authored by Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark, does not provide a listing for Houpt-Rockwell.

Instead, it recognizes Rockwell as a taxi maker in Bristol, Conn., from 1910 to 1911.

The Kimes/Clark entry reads:
“The Rockwell was a taxi named for Albert F. Rockwell who, in association with Ernest R. Burwell, Charles T. Treadway, Ira Newcomb and T.H. Holdsworth, organized the Connecticut Cab Co. early in 1910 for its manufacture. The car itself was designed by the Bristol Engineering Co., was built by the New Departure Manufacturing Co., and was generally regarded during the period as among the finest taxicabs in America.

“Fred Moskovics, later of Stutz fame, was a member of the Bristol Engineering team. New Departure ... also manufactured the Houpt-Rockwell and Allen-Kingston cars. ...200 of these Rockwell landaulets were in taxi service in New York City by late 1910, and the cars were successfully offered for general sale as well. Production continued into 1911, the Rockwell surviving about six months longer than the Houpt-Rockwell. In 1910, Albert Rockwell had been ousted from his position of power in both New Departure and Bristol.

“In 1914, he tried again with another taxi called the Mason-Seaman.”

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