I believe that as car geeks, we all have a certain responsibility when it comes to our interactions with normies. We need to be ready to have a set of fun, easily-appreciated car facts on hand to let the normies know that, really, we’re not all different from them, and that the world of car-geekery is a warm, welcoming, and above all, interesting place. It’s sort of like evangelizing, but with less talk about the Good News and more about how a Citroën DS can drive on three wheels and that saved the life of French President de Gaulle. That’s why I think it’s good for all of us car geeks to know that there was once a car company called American Chocolate.
That’s right, American Chocolate! I’ve talked about this company before in my career going on and on about carås to people I can’t see, but I’ve never devoted a whole post to them. That’s largely because there’s just not that much information about the company, but when has that ever stopped me before? It’s just too good of a name, and it’s too wonderful that a carmaker with this name ever existed. So let’s just go over what we know about this mysterious and long-dead car company.
The reason American Chocolate is named something so weird for a car company is because the company didn’t start as a car company. Want to guess what kind of company they were? Ah, you’re almost right! They didn’t make chocolate specifically, but they made chocolate vending machines!
The company started out as the American Chocolate Machinery Company, based out of Manhattan, and they built penny chocolate vending machines, part of a sort of wave of early vending machine popularity. I haven’t been able to find a picture online of one of American Chocolate’s machines, but I did find a contemporary machine that is likely quite similar:
The company was run by William Walter, a Swiss engineer who built his first car way back in 1898. Walter seems to have gotten bored with just making chocolate vending machines, and in 1902 began assembling cars from largely imported components.
These early cars, which seem to have been built in 30, 40, and 50 horsepower varieties, were sold under the American Chocolate name, and we know this because the company was displaying cars under the American Chocolate name at the 1903 New York Automobile Exhibition:
Information on American Chocolate, the carmaker, is pretty thin. Aside from the facts I’ve relayed so far, we know that the company built 2- and 4-cylinder cars, with some 12- and 24 hp versions, along with the 30, 40, and 50 hp variants. Honestly, I’m not sure how much I trust early 1900s hp ratings, but that’s what sources are telling me.
After 1906 it seems that Walter started to either realize that American Chocolate was a confusing name for a car company or he had a big burst of ego-driven energy, because the cars began to be sold as the Walter Gasoline Car, though it was still noted that the Walter was built by the American Chocolate Machinery Company, sort of like a more delicious Datsun by Nissan kind of situation.
Information about the American Chocolate Company is so thin! But I did find a September-October 1973 issue of Horseless Carriage Gazette that featured a letter from a similarly curious fellow, Ron Hinds, who demanded to know something about the “automobile company known as American Chocolate.” Here was the response he got:
Much of this is what we’ve already learned, but there are some interesting developments here: in 1908 the company was renamed Roebling-Planche, which is the parent company of what would become Mercer, the famous makers of early 20th-century sportscars like the Mercer Type 35J Raceabout.
So, from what I can gather from other sources, about 50 cars were built under the American Chocolate/Walter and even Waltomobile, built by American Chocolate Machinery Company names. These were not cheap cars, selling for the modern equivalent of about $170,000 today!
When Roebling (whose uncle did design work for the Brooklyn Bridge!) entered the picture around 1907, he commissioned Walter to build him a racing car. This project accomplished two things: it pretty much destroyed the company, but from those ashes was born Mercer, the seeds of which seem to be in that early Walter-designed race car.
Walter at this point had left the company, and went on, armed with a four-wheel-drive system he developed in 1909, to found the Walter Motor Truck Company, which made snow plows and fire trucks and all sorts of rugged, hard-working four-wheel drive trucks, all using the novel four-wheel drive system Walter developed, which used an interesting shaft-drive-to-wheel-hub-reduction system:
Walter trucks became quite well-known in the sorts of circles where people pay a lot of attention to snow plows and fire trucks, and in 1997 was bought by fire truck maker KME.
So, this is all pretty amazing, when you think about it. An obscure, short-lived car company with one of the strangest names in all of automotive history was the source for one of the most famous early sports car companies, Mercer, and also a well-known maker of heavy-duty trucks, Walter Motor Trucks. Those are two niches that couldn’t possibly be any different from one another, and yet if you trace their lineages back, they both start in the sweetness of the American Chocolate company.
There Was Once A Company That Literally Dragged Cars From The Junkyard And Turned Them Into New Trucks