1909 Sears Motor Buggy

In today’s age of high-speed transportation, it is often difficult to comprehend how people a hundred years ago moved from place to place.  As horse powered vehicles made way for automobiles, the transition from one to another was not easy. Add bicycles, high wheelers and motorcycles to the mix and it was a fascinating time of transition for transportation in America’s urban centers.

By the turn of the century, Sears, Roebuck & Co. had become a booming retail business, in part due to its mail order catalog. Nicknamed “the consumer’s bible”, customers could order anything from clothing to firearms. From 1909 to 1912, automobiles were added.  For as little as $395.00, people could order their own motor buggy, complete with a top, rubber tires and headlamps.  Requiring little maintenance and having a maximum speed of 25 M.P.H., the motor buggy was an attractive alternative to horses.

Due to the accessibility of the catalog, the automobiles were easily available to rural customers as they were to their urban counterparts.  Buyers could pick up their car at the nearest train station and after a quick assembly and fill up; they would be on their way home.  While the motor buggies were an attractive option to their customers, the cars were a financial loss for Sears, who quickly sold the manufacturing rights in 1912.

Prior to its inclusion into the collections in 1957, the Society’s 1909 Model J was restored and competed against other automobiles of its era in various local “jalopy races”, winning several.  While not manufactured in Milwaukee, the Sears buggy stands as an icon of a transportation revolution in Milwaukee and other cities throughout America.  It, along with other car makes and models, changed the way people moved and how cities grew.   The car stands as a reminder of a slower, more simple time.