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John Merrick (American Inventor)

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Born in Kent County, Delaware in 1814, John Merrick learned the carriage trade from a relative living in that part of the state. At 20 he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and in the next several years worked in wheelwright, livery and carriage shops in Wilmington, New York and New Orleans before returning to Wilmington in 1837. When he returned he became employment at John Kirkman' s carriage factory. While working for Kirkman, Merrick, on his own, constructed a carriage of the finest materials he could afford. Encouraged by his first sale, Merrick struck out on his own in Wilmington to make carriages and sleighs, and in about 1842, purchased John Kirkman's factory. In about 1844 he rented the Cause building at Tatnall and Front Street, and there became the first of the Wilmington carriage manufacturers to consistently ship large quantities of carriages abroad, delivering to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Petersburg and other areas of Virginia, and later to New Hampshire and California. In December of the same year he married Sarah Stevens at Old Swedes Church.

In 1848, he built a large carriage factory at the southeast corner of Second and French streets and settled into carriage making there for nearly twenty years. Merrick commissioned the construction of a new factory in 1863-64, at the corner of Ninth and King Streets, in what may have been a show of confidence in the eventual recovery of the nation following the resolution of the war. The building housed the largest carriage making enterprise in Wilmington, measuring 218 feet long by 70 feet wide, with a 90-foot frontage on King Street. It included numerous carriage-related industries, such as wheelwright, blacksmith and paint shops, under one roof, and, most importantly, was completely fitted for steam power. Though by the 1870s steam powered carriage factories were common, Merrick's factory is credited with being the first in the nation. The new factory opened a new chapter in the carriage industry. A few months after the manufactory's construction, Merrick took on his only partner, Charles W. Horn who had worked with him for 15 years. Eight months later, in 1865, Merrick sold his entire business, including the Second and French Street factory, to carriage makers McLear & Kendall. The same firm, with carriage interests in Philadelphia, Charleston and Savannah, had purchased and resold another of Merrick's former factories, and was later counted among the largest and most successful carriage firms in the country.

Meanwhile, John Merrick retired to his newly built home a short distance away, from where he could comfortably monitor the progress of the industry. Merrick briefly interrupted his retirement in 1874, partnering in a Wilmington banking and brokerage firm. He left the business shortly after it was formed and lived the rest of his life at 1103 Market Street, where he died in 1889. His wife, his daughter Clara and one grandchild, John Wm. Frederich Merrick, son of his deceased son William, survived him. The Merrick House /Wilmington Club is the only extant property that represents the contributions of John Merrick to the carriage industry. The Gause building, a former Merrick factory on the corner of Tatnall and Front Streets, burned in 1872, while the other factories located on Fourth and French Streets, Second and French Streets, Front and Orange Streets, and the corners of Ninth and King, as well as his original residence at Poplar and Robinson, were demolished in the 20th century.



  1. "Asset Detail". Retrieved 2018-03-25.

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