Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kissel Kar Kamouflage

This is a newspaper ad for a 1917 Kissel Kar ("Every Inch a Car"), manufactured by the Kissel Motor Car Company in Hartford WI. The company was founded in 1906 by Louis Kissel and his sons, who were owners of the firm until 1930. In addition to motor cars, the Kissels manufactured trucks (see below), hearses, fire trucks, taxis and utility vehicles.

During World War I, a news article in Motor West (October 15, 1917, p. 8) announced that W.L. Hughson (president of the Pacific Kissel Kar branch)—

has donated the famous Kissel military scout car, recently used to blaze the 'three nation run,' to the government department having the new operations of 'camouflage' in its charge. A committee of three prominent San Francisco artists will paint this car with color patches, which suggests nothing except the surrounding earth, trees, grain fields, sky, etc., making an exact facsimile of the cars now being used by the allies along the various war fronts.

In an issue of the Oakland Tribune ("Artist Are to Paint Motors, Plan 'Camouflage Carriages'," September 2, 1917, p. 32), it was stated that the three "prominent artists" on the Kissel Kar camouflage committee were architect Arthur Brown Jr, and artists [Ernest] Bruce Nelson and A. Sheldon Pennoyer. They were chairman, assistant chairman, and secretary, respectively, of the American Camouflage Western Division, as reported in "San Francisco Architects and Artists as Camoufleurs" in The Architect and Engineer of California (Vol 1 No 2, August 1917, p. 58).

In a later issue of the Oakland Tribune ("First Camouflage Auto Is Let Loose," October 28, 1917, p. 45), a second article reported on the progress of the touring camouflaged Kissel Military Highway Scout—

America's first camouflaged automobile has been let loose, and is now on the war path. The inhabitants of the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Diego swear they are 'seeing things.' A sheriff who has a record for pinching speeders is out after the camoufleurs who committed 'camouflage' to prove that America's automobiles are as chameleon-like while on the war path as those in Europe.

For be it known that the military scout Kissel Kar of 'three-nation-fame' has emerged from the hands of the artists and is now keeping the sheriffs, police and judges sitting up nights planning how they can capture a thing they cannot see.

Reports from different points along the Pacific highway are to the effect that the car is practically invisible at a short distance. Its peculiar grassy marks blend in with its surroundings. Spots of green and pink with dabs of brown and red give such a mottled effect that no matter what speed it is going as far as the eye is concerned it registers 'here it comes and there it goes.'

That automobilists are taking a keen interest in the art of camouflaging is evident from the way the Kissel Motor Car Company is being besieged by inquiries from motorists for further information relative to painting automobiles so that they will not be discernible at a distance…

Small town constables through whose municipalities the car has gone, have sworn that they thought the whole scenery was rolling in on them, and were so astonished and surprised that they did not realize the car had passed them at a Ralph DePalma clip…

There are a handful of 1917 photographs here (mistakenly dated "1920s," and claiming to be "copyright protected") of the touring Kissel Military Highway Scout, dressed in disruptive camouflage garb.

We have also found a photograph (below) of trucks produced by Kissel, with camouflage applied, being shipped to Europe. The camouflage pattern on each is unique.

WWI camouflaged Kissel trucks