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Benson Motor Co Mural in Austin

By: jwilder

The Benson Motor Co Mural in Austin leads to some interesting connections, from the University of Texas to a dealership in Waco, and a motel renovation by Chip and Jo of Magnolia.

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker
Photo by James Wilder on 1-1-2013.

If you live in Austin you may recognize this seemingly random Studebaker mural on the side of a downtown building. This article will uncover a bit of the mystery behind this mural.

The mural is on the side of the Phillips Building at 103 E. 5th Street. The building was constructed in 1897 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Phillips building housed the Benson Motor Company.

The Benson Motor Company was owned by W. S. Benson, M. H. Benson and Chas E. Anderson jr.

They were an early Austin Studebaker dealership and also sold Cadillac and Okland automobiles.

The building also served as a garage, literally. Most houses at the time did not have a garage, many of the well to do would store their cars in downtown garages such as this.

It's not clear exactly how long they were in business at this location but I was able to find automotive journals and newspaper advertisements for Benson Motor Co. that range from 1915 to 1929.

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker
"The Automobile," a trade journal published in March 1916.

It is rare to find photos of people from 100 years ago but my research turned up a wonderful set of photographs of the Benson Motor Company owners.

This clipping was part of an advertisement in "The Automobile," a trade journal published in March 1916.

The names on the photos are (from left to right) M. H. Benson, Chas E. Anderson jr and W. S. Benson.

A portion of the ad copy:

"In 1909 when the four-cylinder car became practical and popular, I looked over the field for a good line to handle – a line manufactured by a company in which the public had confidence; and it was only natural that I should try to get the Studebaker agency, as this company had a reputation and had a popular car. So, after some negotiations, my partner, and I secured this agency, and we have found it to be the best possible connection."

The advertisement was signed by W. S. Benson.

According to "The Alcalde - Ex-students' Association of the University of Texas," published in 1913, M. H. Benson (possibly W. S. Benson's brother) quit a law practice to sell automobiles.

An Early Customer

Benson Motor Co Austin Studebaker
Photo courtesy Austin History Center. Taken May 27, 1920. Includes caption "Dr. Vinson in car."

Those who do the tedious work of digging through dusty history are sometimes given a reward. The reward is usually something they weren't expecting to find.

My research also uncovered connection to the University of Texas. The man in the car is probably Dr. Robert Vinson, President of the University of Texas in 1920.

Waco Connection

While researching the history of the Benson Motor Company, I found an announcement in Automobile Topics, June 28, 1930. The announcement was quote:

"The Benson Motor Company, Studebaker distributor in Central Texas, has purchased the Bradshaw motor company in Waco located in the ground floor of the shrine temple at seventh and Washington Avenue. The name of the new company will be known as the Benson motor company of Waco." -Automobile Topics, June 28, 1930

It seems the Bradshaw Motor Co. of Waco had just opened in 1929 by a Studebaker distributor in Dallas, Texas.

Since I live in Waco, I realized another connection. The shrine temple mentioned in this 1930 Automobile Topics journal still exists today in Waco. In fact, renovation is currently underway by Chip and Jo of Magnolia. The remodeled building will be "Hotel 1928," coming in Fall 2023. www.thehotel1928.com/

Austin and Texas Automobile Facts

To get some perspective on where Austin (and Texas) was at this early time of the automobile age I have included some historical facts below.

  • The Phillips building was constructed in 1897.
  • The first privately owned gasoline powered automobile arrived in Texas in 1899.
  • The Ford Model T was introduced in 1908.
  • Texas required residents to register their motor vehicles in 1917.
  • By the end of 1917 there were 194,720 motor vehicles registered in Texas.
  • The photo of "Dr. Vinson in car." was taken May 27, 1920.
  • The population of Austin in 1920 was 34,876.

James Wilder

James Wilder is the owner, writer, photographer, designer, and developer for MOTOR Texas.

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