Sewell Cushion Wheels

By Rosemary Bailey

This article was published in the August 2019 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Somehow, when looking for subjects for articles for the journal, I found myself on the Detroit Public Library website and put our four surnames into their search field. One of the images that come up was the picture overleaf of a display of Sewell Cushion Wheels from 1912. When I Googled Sewell Cushion Wheel Co. I came up with an article on our website from 2007 by Diana Sewell our Research Co-ordinator for the Sewells at the time. You can read the full article on the Sole Society website.
In the 1880s, two brothers, James Herbert Sewell and William Herbert Sewell left Ireland for the United States and founded the Sewell Wheel Company. Their sons, Herbert James (son of James Herbert) and Robert William (son of William Herbert) applied for patents in 1909 and 1913. These two patents were pivotal in the expansion of the company to include offices in over ten states including Detroit, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.
The wheels were a bridge between old-fashioned solid rubber tyres and the later air-filled pneumatic tyres. They provided a cushion between the tyre and the wheel, and took out some of the bumpiness of the ride, They were used on many heavy fire engines.
The company continued to grow until pneumatic tyres became more popular, when it began to make other components for the auto industry in Detroit and became Sewell Manufacturing.
Of the brothers from Ireland, James Herbert, was born in 1851 and his brother William Sewell was born in 1854 both in Mallow, County Cork. They were the sons of the Rev. Robert Sewell a Protestant Minister and his wife Jane nee Herbert.
William Herbert’s granddaughter, Lucy Forsythe, married Arthur Brian Dean Faulkner a former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. James Herbert Sewell died in 1906 aged 55 and William Herbert Sewell died aged 54 in 1909. Their parents the Rev Robert, born in 1823 and Jane, born 1826 remained in Ireland and both died in 1905 in County Derry.

A hearse and car wheels on display in the Sewell Cushion Wheel Company exhibit during the 1912 Detroit Auto Show. Image courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library