Anderson: The Man Behind the Car | Mary Long's Yesteryear

A portrait of John G. Anderson, world renowned buggy manufacturer and auto industry pioneer, who built and lost an automotive empire in Rock Hill, S.C.

John Gary Anderson was born November 27, 1861 in Lawsonville, North Carolina. The South was torn apart by the Civil War. Before he was six, his father died of tuberculosis and his younger sister also died. At the age of nine, he became an orphan upon the death of his mother. At the age of twelve, he began slicing apples, drying them, and selling them. He worked for The Herald and later a grocery store, dry goods business and in farm machinery. By 1886, he was married with one child, and tried one business, then another. He established the Rock Hill Buggy Company and strung a phone line between his office and the train station, from which he frequently picked up parts. He departed from painting buggies black, and painted them in colors with silver trim. They sold very well.

He formed the Rock Hill Chamber of Commerce. In 1911, when cotton prices fell due to a large crop, he came up with the Rock Hill Plan to save the South's economy. In 1909, Anderson's son, John Wesley, became interested in the new horseless carriages and convinced fhs father to allow him to produce an experimental prototype. He visited Detroit in 1914, and toured the factories of Ford, Page, Hudson, and Continental. He returns to Rock Hill convinced that the buggy business is over. By 1916, he made his first six cars and sold them all. By 1917, the automobile business was slowed down by the start of World War I, but Anderson continued amid parts shortages and built 50 cars. Anderson was awarded a government contract for trucks for the storage of Army hydroplanes for $500 each. The going price had been $1,500. The contract was for 3,000 trucks, but only 100 were built before the war ended, sooner than expected.

Anderson Car built a new factory and was building 35 cars a day by 1920. Business was good and Anderson cars sold better outside of South Carolina, with more sold in Detroit than in South Carolina. In the mid-1920s, the Depression set in, and automobile sales fell. Ford dropped its prices by $175, and Anderson cut his by $200, but he insisted on maintaining the high quality of Anderson automobiles. His least expensive touring car sold for $1,900. Desperate to improve sales, he introduced a less expensive car in 1922, the Light 6, at over $1,100. Henry Ford's models were priced at as little as $298. Anderson refused to cut back on quality and to employ mass production techniques. Sales suffered. 

One of Anderson's parts suppliers, Continental, produced a motor that used untempered metal. After about a week, the engine blocks warped and the motors stopped cold. Buyers who had paid higher prices for their colorful Anderson cars were stranded on the side of the road, while mass-produced black Fords whizzed by. From 1910 to 1930, competition in the industry was intense, and many brands were absorbed or disappeared altogether. Financing was hard to get for automobiles, and the banks demanded payment in full for Anderson's debts. In 1925, he turned to the public for financial assistance, and the next year, the company was sold at auction. Anderson expressed regret that he had located in Rock Hill, after all he had done for the citizens of Rock Hill, with nearly 7,000 Andersons sold, and a payroll of over a million dollars a year for its over 600 workers. But when the chips were down, the support was not forthcoming.