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Three Generations of Wickström’s Designed Automobiles


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In 1901 John Wickström appeared at the Chicago World’s Fair with the Caloric II, an automobile he designed. It was an improved model of Chicago’s first auto that Wickström built in 1898 in his factory, Chicago Motor Cycle Co. Some time later, in Finland, his son Roy built the first domestic production auto. His grandson, !LeRoy, designed automobiles in Detroit in 1980.

In Finland the name Wickström is association with the old reliable boat motor that was built in Bröderna Wickströms Motor Factory Ab in Vasklot, Vasa.

The history of the energetic Wickström’s and their passion to create from metal began in the mid-1800s in Vassor. Johan Michelsson Wikström was born there (1847-1916); he was a coppersmith and master smith. His son John was born 13 Dec 1870 in Kvevlax, died 1959 in Vasa. John became involved and his first project was the railroad machine shop in Vasa. At age 19 he went to Chicago for training. It was at a time when the automobile industry was born. John started his own factory, Chicago Motor Cycle Coach Co. and built the city’s first automobile, Caloric. The year was 1898 and John was 28 years old.

The first improvement to the auto had 2 cylinders and 10-12 horsepower and a better body. It was named Caloric II and was shown at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1901. Henry Ford appeared at the same fair with his first car model. John Wickström worked with water pumps for multi-story buildings and hot air machines. In his factory he built 10 automobiles that he improved gradually, especially with combustion enginers that had several cyclinders.

John was granted 9 patents between 1897-1907. In his new business, Chicago Caloric Engine Co. on Wabash Avenue, he also manufactured boat motors for traffic on Lakes Michigan and Superior and probably the Mississippi River. The river could move several kilometers a year and the depth grew from day to day. At that time there was no factory to build boat motors in the Nordic countries; a large virgin market awaited.

John returned to Finland and, together with his brother Jakob Wickström, established Bröderna Wickströms Motorfabrik Ab in Vasklot outside Vasa. It can be said that the brothers established the motor industry in Finland. Later their brother Carl joined the company. From 1906-1980, 30,000 motors were manufactured; from 1936 they also built diesel engines. Products were exported to Sweden, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Jugoslavia, Portugal, Brazil and Turkey. Products were also delivered as war indemnity to the Soviet Union.

“Wickströms” are still in use today, especially along Finland’s and Norway’s coastal areas. The motors, called “the motor for 3 generations”, are talked about with nostalgia by their owners.

Tha family’s passion for motors was shared when John Wickström’s youngest son, Roy John (1901-1981) graduated in 1925 as an engineer from technical high school in Karsruhe. Roy worked as a designer at a factory in Vasa, then with a branch in Helsingfors, and in 1925 established Oy Wickström Junior Ab in Viborg. There Roy built the automobile Seoma with a specially built motor from the factory in Vasa. The year was 1933. Roy’s first patents involved the automobile lubrication system and air cooling. In an emergency the car could be used as a fire extinguisher by screwing two hoses into the radiator.

In Viborg Roy continued to work on a motor carburetor and preheater for which he had a patent. He exported motor armatures, planned and produced (as did his father and grandfather) various pumps, as well as a motor magneto in 1946 in collaboration with AB Magnettändning in Stockholm.

He’s called Finland’s pioneer with 13 patents from 1930-74. He was founder and president of The Round Table in Finland. He met and married Héléne Bourgeois, who had studied in Salt Lake City, New York and Paris. They had 4 children: !LeRoy, !LaVonne, Bernice, and Madeleine. Son !LeRoy (1928-) inherited an interest in motors and followed in his father’s footsteps. After graduation from Hanken in Helsingfors, he went to Chicago and became an engineer at Illinois Institute of Technology in 1960. He worked on the Saturn auto project in Troy, Michigan 1986-89, as a system consultant for Honeywell Co., and coordinator for EDS, IBM and GE.

Norden Newspaper 19 Dec 2002

Translated by June Pelo

John Wickström (1870-1959) first married Ida Maria Öström, b. 1873 in Vasa. They had 4 children: Sigrid; Werner (in US); Roy John, b. 1901, Chicago, d. 1981, married with 4 children; Alma, married and lived in Brazil. There probably are Wickström descendants living somewhere in the US.

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