Original research appeared in From Ancestory Archives by Melissa Davenport Berry

aliceettlingOf all the delegates to the Carriage Manufacturer’s National Convention in 1893, none received so much attention as Mrs. Alice M. Ettling – the only woman among the delegates…but being a woman, she was excluded from full membership. However, she was given the title of ‘complimentary member’ and was called ‘a daughter’ of the Association. For over 15 years she never missed a convention.

Mrs. Ettling, of Cortland, New York, was the only female in the United States in the carriage business. She owned patents in the U.S. and Canada for a device that allowed folding tops to be put up and down while seated in the vehicle. As stated at the time, “every man knows what a bother it has been when out with his best to have to get off the buggy to push up the top when it rained.”

The invention was simple in design and several thousand per week were manufactured at Mrs. Ettling’s factory in Cortland. They were sold all over the world. “It was a woman’s invention which all the men of the trade have adopted.” The invention consisted of a metal and leather attachment that was placed inside a carriage top.

The Cately company also manufactured a spring that provided “complete prevention of broken bows, bent seat rails or rattling joints: Made from the “best quality of steel spring wire: they were covered with double thick patent leather. The springs promised to do nine tenths of the work of raising the top. The springs, used in connection with the top levers “gave the occupant of a buggy complete control over the top.”

The Cately springs were placed on each arm or rest, operating on the outside joint, counterbalancing the weight of the buggy top when raised or lowered. It was stated the springs would outlast the buggy top and could be attached to new or old tops. The springs and levers sold for 50 cents each.

Alice Cately was born in 1850 to a family in the trade. The Cately’s had been in the carriage business for 70 years. Her family moved to Cortland when she was a young woman when her father closed his carriage manufactory in Tully, N.Y. Shepard W. Cately built carriages and had a reputation for quality vehicles. During the Civil War, the Cately Company contracted with Washington for “sixty wagons for the government’s army train service.” Cately also furnished a large number of horses to the Union forces.

In 1876 Cately closed his company in Tully and moved to Cortland, where he worked as a salesman for Fitzgerald and Kinney, wagon manufacturers. When he retired, he turned his energies to inventing, perfecting and patenting 11 different vehicle attachments. To get his inventions into general use, he formed a co-partnership with his daughter, Alice, naming the company Cately and Ettling. Upon his death in 1898 Alice took sole ownership of the patents. With ‘no boy’ in the family to take over, they fell into Mrs. Ettling’s hand. The firm, under her direction, “prospered greatly.” At one time it was the largest accessory carriage factory in the area. Mrs. Ettling was “very widely and favorably known” in America’s carriage trade. Through her enterprise, she succeeded in getting the springs and levers in the hands of carriage builders throughout the world, making them standard attachments in the manufacture of carriage tops.

For Alice, taking over the business was a necessity, as her husband of four years had died and she had a son to raise. She had attended Cortland Normal School, graduating in 1871. She taught school for a few years and then trained to become a nurse. She married Henry Ettling in 1871, becoming a widow when she was 35. Although Alice’s father was the actual designer of the company’s most profitable inventions, it was Alice who sold them to the carriage manufacturers. At this she excelled.

Besides heading her company, Alice Ettling was a church member, active in Eastern Star and the 20th Century Club. She raised funds to start Cortland’s first hospital and served on its board. She was an organizer of Cortland’s Red Cross and was a life member of the Gideons (the group that provides the Bibles found in hotel/motel rooms.)

Mrs. Ettling closed Cately and Ettling in 1916, when the popularity of the automobile killed the carriage business in Cortland and across the country. She passed away in 1924.

Like today’s women, Mrs. Ettling did it all - raising a family, putting her son through college and maintaining a household, besides being active in her community - all without treading on the toes of the patriarchs in the male-dominated carriage trade. “Cortland Treasures” by Steve Sbelgio as printed in the Cortland Standard.

Contact Details

Driving Digest Magazine
PO Box 120
Southern Pines, NC 28387

(910) 691-7735


Driving Digest is a member of American Horse Publications, a professional association serving the equine publishing industry.

Information on this site is provided by outside sources and is assumed to be correct. Driving Digest is not responsible for inaccuate information provided by outside sources.