In 1887, a German wagon maker named Louis Niebling immigrated to the U.S. and moved West to St Louis. Horses, wagons and carriages were the mainstays of transportation.
Louis Niebling opened his own wagon shop at 1707 South Broadway in 1892. However, his success was marred by Mother Nature when the tornado of 1895 destroyed his enterprise. He persevered and started again, building a new two-story shop at 2146 South 12th Street. By 1905, Niebling’s shop was building the bodies for Mack’s five-ton capacity truck in which the driver sat over the engine.
A year later, the city had its own car manufacturer when the St Louis Car Company started producing the American Mors under license from a French company. Louis Niebling Carriage and Wagon Manufacturing also built the body for the Mors. At a time when the average salary was around $40 a month, the Mors price was between $3,000 and $6,000. The Mors eventually was discontinued, but Louis kept moving forward.
By 1918, the shop was also in the business of making wooden truck bodies and had grown to about 13 employees. Ordinarily, the customer brought in a bare chassis, dash board and a hood and the body was made to his instructions in the shop. On the lower floor was the carpentry shop, blacksmith shop and assembly area. The completed body was sent to the second floor by a hand-operated elevator. There, the trim shop made cloth tops and upholstery as well as completing the necessary painting.
At about this time, Louis’ son, Erwin, joined the business and subsequently went into mechanical repair. The wagon-making business dwindled rapidly and Erwin decided to move to a more residential neighborhood in south St. Louis at 5208 South Kingshighway in 1927. His two sons, Warren and Ray, grew up in that shop and then joined him in the business at the end of World War II. When Erwin retired, the sons remained partners and expanded by opening a body shop operation at 4111 Meramec under Warren’s management in 1968.
Warren and Ray both had sons and like their fathers and grandfathers, they grew up in the family business – Jim with Warren in the body shop and Tom with Ray in the mechanical shop. When Warren and Ray retired in 1986, Tom and Jim became the managing partners.
Today, Tom continues to the Niebling tradition in delivering trusted repair service to the St. Louis Community in South St. Louis City. The shop located on South Kingshighway continues to service all makes and models cars and keeps up with today’s technology while always knowing where it all started for this family owned business.