Kissel may not be well-known, but its vehicles are not forgotten

 
 
Posted6/1/2015 6:00 AM
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  • The largest auto museum in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, located in the sleepy little town of Hartford.

    The largest auto museum in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, located in the sleepy little town of Hartford. Photos Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • The Kissel Motor Car Co. expanded into fire trucks. This is a 1926 model. The truck on the left served the local community of Hartford, Wisconsin.

    The Kissel Motor Car Co. expanded into fire trucks. This is a 1926 model. The truck on the left served the local community of Hartford, Wisconsin. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • On the second floor of the museum, the Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and its exhibit can be found.

    On the second floor of the museum, the Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and its exhibit can be found. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • The Wisconsin Automotive Museum also spotlights other Wisconsin-made vehicles, including numerous examples from the Nash brand, built in nearby Kenosha.

    The Wisconsin Automotive Museum also spotlights other Wisconsin-made vehicles, including numerous examples from the Nash brand, built in nearby Kenosha. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • The museum's two floors and Art Deco-inspired halls also house many American classics, muscle machines, antiques and quirky micro cars.

    The museum's two floors and Art Deco-inspired halls also house many American classics, muscle machines, antiques and quirky micro cars. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • A 250-ton train, built in 1913, is on display at the museum. It was restored by the Steam Locomotive Heritage Association.

    A 250-ton train, built in 1913, is on display at the museum. It was restored by the Steam Locomotive Heritage Association. Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

The largest museum in Wisconsin dedicated to car buffs is the Wisconsin Automotive Museum, located in the sleepy little town of Hartford. It's not just sheer quantity that makes the museum unique. It's the fact that it houses the largest assembled group of Kissel automobiles.

Raising the coolness factor is the realization that this museum is located just one mile away from the original factory where these vehicles rolled out new more than 80 years ago. The Kissel Motor Car Co. was founded by a German immigrant, Louis Kissel, and his two sons in 1906.

The Kissel brand zeroed in on producing stylish and sporty vehicles that stood out with their luxury, performance and innovation. In addition to the Hartford factory, a sales office was opened in downtown Chicago, right on Michigan Avenue.

After nearly 2 decades of production, and with the crippling effects of the Great Depression settling in, the company closed its doors in 1931. During its time, the company manufactured high-quality automobiles and expanded to build fire engines, ambulances, hearses, taxicabs and trucks.

Perhaps the brand's most notable sportster was a two-seater dubbed the "Gold Bug." These zippy models were owned by such celebrities as Amelia Earhart, Fatty Arbuckle and Mary Pickford and even appeared on-screen in motion pictures.

Kissel also produced supply vehicles for the U.S. military during World War I. During the war years, the company swelled to employ more than 1,400 employees. Kissel produced roughly 35,000 automobiles total. Only 200 are known to exist today.

The museum has 25 gleaming examples in its collection, including a 1921 Gold Bug and several fire engines, including one that served the Hartford community.

While the Kissel vehicles certainly take center stage, the museum also spotlights other Wisconsin-made vehicles, including numerous examples from the Nash brand, built in nearby Kenosha. The museum's two floors and Art Deco-inspired halls also house many other four-wheeled delights such as American classics, muscle machines, antiques and quirky micro cars.

For those with a need for speed, a stop on the second floor to the Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame is a must. It contains copious artifacts, pictures and several race cars.

A 250-ton train is also available for viewing at the museum. A local group, the Steam Locomotive Heritage Association, based in Hartford, restored the 1913 steam locomotive, which is operational.

For more information on this collection, visit www.wisconsinautomuseum.com.

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