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Semmes Motor Co.: 1925

Semmes Motor Co.: 1925

The parts department of Semmes Motor Company in Washington circa 1925. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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A tall mechanic?

How do you suppose those greasy hand prints got onto the beam over the counter?

Heavy lifting

Notice the display of jacks on the right end of the counter. These look like a short version of the bumper jacks that were common until the 1980s and the advent of plastic bumper covers used today. The black tubes standing in the center are the jack handles that fit into the ratcheting mechanism of the jack.

Admiral Semmes

The only Raphael Semmes I'd heard of before reading this was the former US Navy commander who joined the Confederate States Navy and became a famed commerce raider, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. Though he called Mobile, Alabama home, Semmes was a Maryland native. Do I assume correctly the owner of this dealership was one of his descendants?

Check out the Chains

When I was a kid (in 70's) we had to put chains on our farm truck when we had snow and Ice. I remember they were a pain. Sometimes we would put them on and take them off several times during the winter.

Gabriel Snubbers

What an evocative name! What a gorgeous sign! The contrast in shoe shine on the two customers is marked. You don't even need to see their outfits to figure out their relative socioeconomic status. The one on the left has shiny shoes, while Mr. Dodge's are dusty and cracked.

[He's a mechanic. His street shoes could be just as nice as the other guy's. - Dave]


This one scores high on the drool scale for automobilia buffs like me. I would kill for the Gabriel Snubbers sign. Lots of goodies here, like the "marble" gearshift knobs in the display case.

Sales Receipt Machines

The customers are watching the clerks write up their sales on sales receipt machines with Art Nouveau style cases. The devices held rolls of multi-copy sales receipt forms, and, when completed, the turn of a handle peeled out one copy for the customer and one or more for the store. Here's two later "streamlined" versions, probably from the 1950s.

Some things never change...

Even nowadays, some dealers still have under-counter display cases, highlighting everything from oil and air filters to die-cast collectible cars. Lots of interesting things in this picture, from the cans of Ditzler paint on the shelf, to the display of flashlight bulbs, to the AC spark plugs. The Gabriel Snubbers appear to be friction-type shock absorbers, using a wind-unwind principle (like a clock's mainspring). The more things change, the more they stay the same.


That's not a radiator on the counter. It's a winterfront, an early thermostatic device that was installed over the radiator. The louvers opened and closed depending on engine temperature. They were popular in the colder states.

That's the ticket

Those ornate-looking boxes on the counter are receipt machines. Counterman wrote out the ticket, then pushed down on a lever that ejected the receipt and pulled the next one into place.

re: Counter object

Those machines the clerks are using are early versions of the three-part receipt systems that became common in the 1940s, 50s and on -- until computers took over. As a local printer, we made up and stocked many such forms. Businesses used them widely in our community.

Highway Knobbery

Check the fancy shift knobs.

Akro Agate Gear Shift Knobs

I love the Akro Agate gear shift knobs in the counter case, just in
front of the guy in the striped pants. It is very hard to find an
original one today. You could replace the factory ones, always
black, with a very colorful new knob, they just screwed on and off.
They came in many very beautiful colors, looked like a giant marble.
It was an inexpensive way to fancy up you car or truck. These were
for vehicles with a floor shift transmission. Very Fancy....

D'you like my flat?

The Tire Mica and Tire Paint are telling of both the poor road conditions and fragile tires of the time. Tire Mica would have been used as an anti-friction agent, both to ease mounting & to prevent chafing between tube and tire.

Counter object

What are the things the men are examining on the counter? Those don't look like auto parts.

Bring back the Flowers

My uncle had a 1930s sedan with flower vases that my aunt kept full. They made us feel really special. I can't remember another thing about the car (except that it was black, of course) but that stuck with me. Better yet, another uncle had a coupe with a rumble seat no kid would forget and which we all fought over.

Gabriel Snubbers


Touch of elegance

Don't overlook the bud vases for sale on the right end of the counter. Not something I see at AutoZone these days.

Bud vases!

Popular with the ladies. Often hung from the roof pillars or back-seat sail panel inside closed cars.


The Gabriel Snubber, the first automotive shock absorber, was introduced in 1907.

In 1900, Claude Foster, a pioneer in the automotive parts industry, founded a company in Cleveland that was named after its first product, the Gabriel carriage horn. Foster later developed the first shock absorbing device, the "Snubber," for which he was granted the first U.S. patent for a direct-acting shock absorber in 1907.


The presence of the vases on the right of the counter make me wonder if cars back then had a flower vase option like modern VW Beetles.

On the right counter

It's the flower vase for a New Beetle.

Getting snubbed

Gotta love the details in this picture. The Dodge mechanic's run-down heels, the radiator just sitting at the counter, the flower vases next to it on the counter. Then there is the gorgeous display for Snubbers. You gotta wonder what it is even selling. Makes your car drive better when passing playful bulls? Turns out that a snubber is a device used to suppress ("snub") voltage transients in electrical systems, pressure transients in fluid systems, or excess force or rapid movement in mechanical systems. No bull.

Profitable Biz?

...cause that looks like the mother of all cash registers.

Obey that Impulse!

At the first drop of rain, put on your Weed Tire Chains!

Give me your finest frammis...

It's for my Nash. And hurry up about it!

Tell me the truth

Do these pants make my butt look big?

[Or could it be the other way around? - Dave]

The guy on the left

... missed a belt loop.

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