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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • EAT MORE FISH, 1917

J-Ride: 1950

J-Ride: 1950

Publicity photo from late 1950 for the Kaiser "Henry J," a small car (named after company chairman Henry J. Kaiser) that was a few years ahead of its time. By 1954, the Henry J had tootled off into oblivion. View full size.

 

Popular for drag racing

They were popular bases for drag racing cars - as were any small, inexpensive cars that could be stuffed with a bigger engine.

Henry J

My parents bought a Henry J in 1952. It was the worst car they ever owned. You couldn't get it started in the morning at least once a week without fiddling with it for 10 or 15 minutes. I remember my father kicking the door and cursing at it, and my mother getting so upset at him. We had it for about two years.

Airbrushed photo

This photo was retouched by an artist as can be seen by the white line around the left front bumper guard. See also the outline painted on the rear edge of the fender. This practice was very common in the '50s when photos were used for ads in magazines. This prototype car seems to be missing the top part of the doors.

[That kind of retouching was meant for photos appearing in newspapers, which is how this picture was used. - Dave]

Allstate

If you didn't like the bare bones austerity of the Henry J, then beginning in 1952 you could buy a more nicely equipped variant at your local Sears store with the name Allstate in its place. Most of the Allstates came with trunk lids and glove boxes and also had a higher grade interior. They could be had with a 134 cubic inch four or 161 cubic inch six, which probably resulted in a nice power to weight ratio for the 2,300 lb. car considering that the almost 600 lb. heavier Studebaker Champion only had eight more cubic inches. 1566 were built in 1952 and only 797 early in 1953 when Sears discontinued the program of selling a car through its stores. The top priced six was only $100 less than the lowest priced Studebaker, which had four doors and even in the base model Champion seemed like a better buy. Today the Allstates are far rarer than comparable Henry J's.

Darrin influence

Although the Henry J prototype wasn’t a Dutch Darrin design, he did tweak it a bit. The signature ‘Darrin Dip’ at the trailing edge of the door betrays his involvement. As well, he is credited for insisting on the rear fender mini fins.

Quite possibly

the worst looking automobile in history, and there were plenty to choose from.

Basic transportation for sure

Apparently Henry J. Kaiser hoped to become known as the next Henry Ford, or American answer to Adolph Hitler, when he wisely sought to produce a low-priced new car for low-income folks shortly after World War II ended.

But the first models of the Henry J. had no trunk lid, so you'd access that area by folding down the back seat. Also, the rear windows didn't roll down, there was no glove compartment and no arm rests either.

A friend of mine owned a used Henry J in the early 1960s and it was a fun car to buzz around in. But our OSHA and highway safety people wouldn't let Americans even near one if they tried to market them now. They were made and sold for only four years.

 
THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG
Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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