E. C. Wright First Ford Dealer in Sturgis

Cars have been a big deal since Henry Ford made the Model T accessible for the average person.

One Sturgis businessman had the insight and where-with-all to get in on the automobile action in the early days – E.C. Wright, Sr.

His father, Wesley Wright, owned a successful Sturgis hardware store. E.C. and his brother, Arthur, worked in the family business at 111 W. Chicago Road, now the address for Wings Etc, downtown.

By 1908 Wright was the sole owner of the hardware store and saw the new trend toward automobiles as an opportunity. He traveled to the Ford factory in Detroit and must have been a good salesman, because he convinced Ford and his staff to make him their Sturgis Ford dealer.

It paid off for both Ford and Wright. After a bit of a slow start in his first dealership, a barn behind his house at 121 N. Nottawa, Wright expanded to include lots 123 and 125.

In 1912 he purchased 23 cars paying with a check for $17,000. The Ford company was still talking about it in April 1940 in their publication Ford News.

“E.C. Wright Sr., 31 years an authorized Ford dealer” reads a caption by his photo.

The article states that $17,000 “was believed to be the largest individual check received by the company for cars up to that time. This record driveaway attracted tremendous attention all along the route from Detroit to Sturgis.”

The “driveaway” is what they called the procession of 23 Ford Model T cars traveling from Detroit to Sturgis. The rutted, muddy or dusty roads were not designed for automobiles but the cars and drivers made it home. Then they enjoyed celebrity status for quite a while.

Bob Hair wrote that in 1917 Wright built a new Ford salesroom and garage at 303 W. Chicago Road, to which he added a new section in 1922 with an entrance on Clay Street. The building is T.C. Appliance in 2024.

Ford News concluded the 1940 article saying “Through 31 years of continued growth of the firm, Mr. Wright has been a guiding factor. This is as true now as it was during the company’s infancy. Despite the fact that he is 80 years of age, Mr. Wright is still the active head of the firm.”

Hair added that Wright had dealerships in St. Joseph County – Three Rivers and Mendon – and in LaGrange County, Ind.

On the side, Wright was a stockholder in Citizens State Bank when it was founded in 1892 and became the president in 1931. In 1933 he bought the Aulsbrook & Jones and Grobhiser furniture factories when they were sold in bankruptcy court.

Mary Vogt, who has a home at Klinger Lake, is the great granddaughter of E.C. Wright Sr. Her mother, Mary Wright, married Jerry Vogt, son of John Vogt, the founder of Vogt’s Flowers.

Mary called both of her grandfathers “movers and shakers” in the Sturgis community long before she was born. She loves her rich Sturgis legacy and sharing the stories she’s heard of her ancestors over the years.