The Wolfington tradition all started in 1876, when the young British immigrant Alexander J. Wolfington set out to apply his skill as a blacksmith to carriage building. He had no idea he would found a business that would not only be thriving 140 years later but would be a major force in bus transportation. He just wanted to build the best horse-drawn carriage in Philadelphia. In a converted feed store on North Twentieth Street, he built the first Wolfington carriage, a " buggy," with such durability that it held up under the heavy use of doctors traveling their rounds. The doctors were impressed. They told their patients who told their neighbors and the popularity of the Wolfington carriage grew. In time, Wolfington began to make carriages for Philadelphia's well to do. Eventually the company was called upon to make the ultimate carriage of the 1890s, the Brougham - a private, four-wheeled, closed carriage drawn by a single horse and driven by a coachman. The superb craftsmanship of the Wolfington Brougham gave Wolfington a national reputation.
Alex Wolfington was not discouraged when the horseless carriage came on to the scene. While he did not like the new "devil machines," he couldn't ignore them either. Since the first car manufacturers produced only a chassis with an engine attached, the new owner had to find someone to put a body on his new contraption. Naturally, the new car owners went to their carriage builders for help. Thus Alex Wolfington and his son Harry J., entered the motorized transportation era by adding bodies to the bare chassis and by adding individualized touches for practicality, safety and comfort. Many of these additions such as roll-down windows, ashtrays, heaters and reclining seats were later adopted by car manufacturers when they began doing their own bodywork.
By 1910, Alex turned the reins over to his son Harry J., who knew that the future of transportation was in motorized vehicles. Even in 1910 car manufacturers were still only producing motorized chassis - but with a twist. They now controlled who built the bodies for their automobiles by subcontracting the bodywork to authorized shops around the country. In Philadelphia, Wolfington got the contracts for Stutz, Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Cadillac, to name just a few, that bore the sign "Body by Wolfington." Wolfington also continued to customize vehicles for its richer clientele, everything from crafting gold hubcaps and door handles to reproducing a favorite leather armchair as the driver's seat. Wolfington even made two bodies for the same chassis, one for summer and one for winter. Twice a year the car would go to Wolfington to be "converted."
By 1921, however, most auto manufacturers had built their own auto body factories. When the East Coast Coach Company approached Wolfington about building a bus body, Harry J's son Harry A,who had joined his father in the business in 1916, viewed it as a new opportunity. The first bus with a body built by Wolfington ran between Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and the Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City. This door-to-door service appealed to all the big hotels in Atlantic City and in the Poconos.They all began ordering specially designed hotel buses with bodies built by Wolfington. The company also built bus bodies for public transportation, for sightseeing and, in 1926, the Philadelphia area's first schools. That same year it also built the bodies for six buses which crossed the rough terrain between Beirut and Baghdad. All six of them were equipped with water tanks and lavatories.
The Great Depression along with mass production and the move of bus manufacturers west to equalize freight costs ended the manufacturing wing of the Wolfington business. They were hard times but Harry A. found a way. In 1932, he made the decision to become a bus distributor.
It was a good business decision. By 1940, the Wolfington Body Company, under Harry A's guiding hand had become the largest bus distributor in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. By then, too, the company had streamlined bus selling. Formerly, body dealers sold the bodies to truck dealers who would mount them on their chassis and then sell both to users. Instead, Harry A. bought chassis and sent them to the body manufacturer where they were joined. Consequently, he furnished his customers with the complete buses.
1941 saw the beginning of the Second World War and a new challenge for Wolfington. With all of the country's resources going to the war effort there was nothing to sell. The company called on its experience in building bus bodies. Small buses were created out of Wolfington Body's stock of traded-in used vehicles and sold to defense plants. With the resumption of bus production in 1946 came the company's return to its position of sales leadership. In the 1950s Harry A's four sons joined the company, a fourth generation of Wolfingtons.
Throughout the years the company had always been located in Philadelphia, though in several different locations, so when in 1968 it was decided to relocate its headquarters to an 18-acre facility in Exton, PA, 35 miles outside the city it marked the beginning of a new era.
Today Wolfington Body Company, which still uses the Wolfington Brougham as its symbol, is one of the largest school bus dealers in the United States. In addition to its Exton location, it also has facilities in New Buffalo, PA, and Mt. Holly, NJ. The company's business extends far beyond the tri-state area, however. Wolfington buses can be found throughout the US and many foreign countries.
In 1987 Wolfington began providing complete school bus service to area school districts. Today it serves more than a dozen Pennsylvania and New Jersey districts. Wolfington service has expanded to Commercial bus services, as well as School bus service.
A far cry from its humble beginnings,Wolfington now employs approximately 100 people. Employee turnover has always been very low. According to Richard Wolfington, "Employee loyalty is a major factor in the success of the company."
What does the twenty-first century hold for this company that has continued to grow despite wars and depressions? Richard Wolfington's crystal ball tells him the company will experience continued growth as long as it holds on to the traditional values exhibited by Alexander Wolfington when he built that first carriage 140 years ago.