Karl H. Martin
Automobile Designer at Large and Builder of the Wasp Automobile
|Born in 1888, in Buffalo, NY.,
Karl grew up and experienced a number of adventures before eventually moving to
Bennington, Vermont, where he started the Martin Wasp Corporation.
In 1912, after selling his shares in the oil industry, he moved to New York City, where he began to learn the high-end automobile industry. His father had earlier been engaged in studies of motorizing the Postal system with electric vehicles. Studies which proved the efficiency of using motorized vehicles, instead of horses, to pick up the mail. So, at his father's urging, he embarked on a career that led to designing expensive coaches (bodies) bought by the wealthy all around the world.
There weren't many coach designers in New York City during the second decade of the 1900's, and few made a name designing for the rich and famous. Karl was among the few. His artistic skills were sought after by many individuals, some who not only owned an automobile designed by him but used him to design for their own automobile marque.
The most expensive coach bodies of this period of time were often hammered out of aluminum by perfectionist craftsmen. The body's side panels were incorporated into the piece of aluminum as the back section. After the coach is built to the owner's specifications is it then mounted to the chassis of their choice. It was a truly custom automobile industry.
In 1919 Karl moved to Bennington, Vermont where he started his own car company, the Martin-Wasp Corporation. With the financial assistance of several people, Robert Healy and E.H. Holden, the company opened in what used to be the Olin Scott Foundry and Machinery building on Pleasant Street. Karl designed and helped build his cars.
The first Wasp went to the New York Auto Show in 1920, and put on show at the Commodore Hotel where it was immediately purchased by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. He agreed not to take delivery until after the show. The car made little impression amongst the motor trade publications but did get reviewed by two a couple of months later.
By 1924 Karl's Martin-Wasp Corporation ceased manufacturing automobiles. In all it produced fourteen known vehicles, eleven 4 cylinder and three 6 cylinder models. The 6 cylinder model in the accompanying photo study was a rolling (complete) chassis sold to Marvin Dodge. Along with spare body parts purchased from Karl Martin, Marvin built the auto you see in the photos. It along with only one other are the only two known surviving Wasps in existence.
To see this automobile it is on display at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. You can get more information about the museum by going to http://www.benningtonmuseum.org/