Built like a Mack
Photos by Elsa Kerschner taken at the Mack Museum The oldest Mack bus was used for touring in Chicago in summer and was taken to New Orleans for touring in winter. It had between 750,000 and 1 million miles on it when it was retired. As with all the trucks on exhibit, Curator Don Schumaker said it is in running condition.
At the end of October the popular Mack Museum was moved to what had been the testing center on Lehigh Parkway from its Postal Road location. The test department has been moved to North Carolina.
Entry is through a Heritage Room that traces the growth of the company from 1900. A grandfather clock belonging to John "Jack" Mack and a safe from the Mack Bros. Motor Car Company precede showcases. Trucks and pieces of trucks fill the testing areas.
Curator Don Schumaker said the Mack family operated a dairy near Scranton. When Jack left the farm he had a job loading coal barges and railroad cars in Scranton. He took his mechanical ability to New York City and worked for a carriage and wagon firm and in 1893 he and brother Augustus "Gus," a carriage maker who also worked on imported automobiles, bought the company.
As a farmer Jack thought horses shouldn't be on the streets. The brothers made steam powered motorized vehicles but they were not successful. The same thing happened with electric vehicles in 1900. They decided the internal combustion engine was the way to go.
After building a tour bus in 1900, business picked up. Five years later brother Joseph, who had a silk business in Allentown, talked them into moving. They bought the Weaver and Hirsch Foundry on 10th Street. Trucks were added to the line of vehicles they built.
Employees knew who was boss and there was a list of 10 commandments they were expected to follow. Mack Motors took care of its employees. Each year a parade ended at Jackson Park (Orefield) where a clambake was held.
Employees numbered 40 in 1906 and 1,500 in 1911. They received medals for Christmas that said "You Make the Difference." Any employee found not carrying his medal had to make a donation to charity.
Company sales were national and international by that time. Mack became known for giving customers better performance and durability than they expected.
But they had to borrow money from J.P. Morgan. It joined with Saurer Company from Switzerland and Hewitt Motors of NYC. The Mack brothers then lost control of the company.
The new people realized the quality of the Mack ideas and reputation and ran the company on that basis. Museum curator Don Schumacher said there was soon a need for modernization because the vehicles still had to be cranked, had solid rubber tires and brakes on the rear only.
During World War I and again in WWII they became the largest supplier of trucks for the war effort. The British doughboys called them Mack Bulldogs. It became the company symbol in the 1920s. When Chief Engineer Alfred Masury was in the hospital he carved the bulldog design that is still in use. CEO Zenon C.R. Hansen especially favored the bulldog.
By building their own parts - transmissions, engines, etc. - they were free to do more innovation because they were not dependent on other companies. It created a complete Mack vehicle, said Schumaker.
Mack trucks were used at Boulder Dam, the Panama Canal, New York skyscrapers, the Distant Early Warning System (DEW line) and the Mount Wilson Observatory.
Hansen brought the world headquarters to Allentown from New Jersey and Mack had good years in the 1960s and '70s.
The museum tour moves on to the test rooms with a "large collection of vehicles, memorabilia and historical archives," said Schumaker. If people look for parts for restoration and they are not available, Mack Archives can provide drawings from which parts can be made. Schumaker said it is the "biggest function" of the museum.
The rarest truck is turbine driven but it never became a reality because of fuel inefficiency.
The Antique Truck Club of America displays some of its collectibles at the museum which helps provide an ever-changing exhibit.
The Mack Museum is a non-profit corporation which makes donations tax deductible.