1948 Divco delivery truck. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
For many decades before convenience stores, jug milk stores and easy travel, milk was delivered daily to urban homes. Delivery also extended to eggs, bread and other produce, but milk was the most popular before the wide use of home refrigeration. While the sound of clinking milk bottles and the clip-clop-clip-clop of a horse at four in the morning wasn’t always welcome, the convenience of fresh milk delivered to the door more than made up for it, even if, before homogenization, cold weather froze the cream at the top of the bottle and made it rise at funny angles.
Early milk wagons were drawn by horses, and it was a valuable dobbin that learned to plod slowly along at just the right pace, pausing when necessary as its master made deliveries. As motor vehicles became more popular, especially after the Second World War, motorized vehicle delivery gradually replaced those faithful four legged partners.
One of the early and most popular was the Divco, created by Detroit-based Detroit Electric Car Company, maker of the Detroit Electric car. By the 1920s, sales of electric cars had virtually finished, so the company decided to develop an electric milk wagon. Although testing showed it was too heavy and its driving range too limited, Detroit management concluded that motorized milk delivery had potential.
To pursue this Detroit Electric Car Co. formed Detroit Industrial Vehicle Co. – hence Divco – and designed a prototype engine-powered milk truck. Motorized delivery proved faster than horse-drawn, so in 1926 Divco built 25 Model A Divco evaluation vehicles. This led to the production Model B Divco in 1927 with a four-cylinder Continental engine. Although engine-powered, the Model B’s square wooden body still resembled a horse-drawn milk wagon, without the horse.
The Model B could be driven from the left or right running board or from the front seat, and its patented “Divco Safety Brake” automatically locked when the driver was out. Model Bs and the short-lived Model C were joined by the Model G whose hood and separate fenders make it look less like a milk wagon and more like a conventional truck.
A major improvement came in 1931 when the Divco Model H was introduced with a clever dropped frame design that allowed a flat floor from door to door. The driver could drive while standing or sitting and could easily move back and forth and enter and leave from either side, although it was necessary to step over the central driveshaft which still ran at its former height.
In spite of its popular drop frame design, Divco suffered badly with the onset the Depression in 1929. By 1931 it was being operated by a credit committee, and In 1932 was sold to its engine supplier Continental Motors Corp. who changed the name to Continental-Divco Co.
The Depression was still hurting sales, and in spite of a revised and larger six-cylinder Model K, followed by Models M, Q and R, Divco was still suffering. Thanks to the more economical Model S, it finally showed a profit in 1935. Alas, parent company Continental’s financial problems forced it to sell Divco to Twin Coach Co., a bus and truck manufacturer. Now the Divco-Twin Truck Co., it built the Divco Model S and a Twin Coach delivery truck that resembled a small bus.
The best-remembered Divco was the Model U introduced in 1938. The old milk wagon-influenced lines were completely gone, replaced by a rounded, streamlined all-steel body with integrated headlamps and slanted windshield. A year later came the Model UB aimed at bakeries – the U was renamed the UM (for milk) – and a longer model UL for uses such as laundries, dry cleaners and parcel delivery.
Divco prospered with the Model Us and in 1939 production moved from the 53,000 square foot Detroit factory to a larger 136,000 square foot plant in Warren, Michigan. During the Second World War Divco produced aircraft parts, and resumed truck production in 1944. Despite competition from the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler), White Motor Co., and the Pak-Age-Car built by Stutz and later by Auburn, Divco Corp. emerged as the light delivery vehicle leader.
The immediate post-war years were Divco’s best. Pent-up demand for delivery trucks and high consumption of mostly home-delivered milk brought production of 6,385 trucks in 1948. From there it was downhill as milk delivery gradually waned with more women working outside the home, universal refrigeration and lower cost supermarket milk. This decline brought Divco’s merger with bus maker Wayne in 1956.
Despite several models and engines, Divco was sold to Highway Products Corp. in Ohio in 1966. Divco production continued in declining numbers under different ownerships, finally landing with Correct Manufacturing Co. in Delaware. Divco build its last three vehicles in 1986, a victim of changing lifestyles and declining home delivery.