3 In Your Town: Chattanooga's First Auto Manufacturer
More than a century before Volkswagen rolled its first Passat off the Chattanooga assembly line, another car manufacturer called Chattanooga home.
"Well Henry Nyberg made cars, first in Anderson, Indiana,” explained Corky Coker of Coker Tires. “He came to the United States through Canada, from Sweden. He then came to Chattanooga because he needed to diversify his manufacturing base so that he could supply all of the southern United States with this mass produced car. And they were quite successful in the day."
Corky Coker owns two of the three (known) Nyberg cars in existence at the Coker Museum in downtown Chattanooga. The Coker Museum houses Corky Coker's personal collection that he grew during his carrier at Coker Tire. Amongst many other attributes, Coker is both a car collector and automobile historian.
During the Reconstruction years, thousands of northerners flocked to the south to strike it rich. Businessmen honed in on Bridgeport, Alabama, South Pittsburg and of course, Chattanooga.
"Well you know Chattanooga is very uniquely placed,” said Coker. “Today we are in a day’s drive from 3 quarters of the population of America. So it's a hub for transportation for trucking, and it was back then. From the railroads to the river, this is a great place for the industrial revolution. There are foundries in Chattanooga. You know there was that time in the 50s and 60s that we were pretty dirty. That's because we made a lot of stuff here."
The original Nyberg auto factory was located near the intersection of modern day Dodds Avenue and East Main Street. Hundreds of vehicles there between 1912 and 1914. Unfortunately, the Nyberg Auto Company was forced into bankruptcy in 1913. The 1914 Nybergs were the last to model year to be built in Chattanooga. Henry Nyberg moved back to Sweden.
The Coker Museum is open with a new entrance in Honest Charley Speed Shop. This is a self-guided tour with a $10.00 general admission ticket sold at the front desk of the speed shop. Each general admission ticket has a $3.00 coupon towards any one Honest Charley apparel item. Veterans, first responders, anyone 65 and up and children 6-12 are $8.00. Children 5 and under are free.