The foundation for Auburn’s buggy and automobile heritage was set by Charles Eckhart. A man with business sense, knowledge of carriage making, and a desire to see his adopted home become a better place, by the end of his day, he made many contributions to Auburn outside of the automobile industry as well. Auburn, Indiana’s preeminent philanthropist was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania to John and Charlotte Eckhart on February 24, 1841. His eventful early life included making his own way in the world at age 15, leaving home during the great panic of 1857 with only $3 in his pocket.
Charles spent several years working up to 16 hours a day and working at several places such as a dye house in Philadelphia, working odd jobs in New York, and a carriage business in Hillsdale, Pennsylvania where he learned the carriage business. Charles learned to save every cent that he could during these times and that lesson helped him become a self-made man.
He ended up serving in the American Civil War. Charles eventually moved to Auburn from Pennsylvania with his wife Barbara and four children in 1874. He then proceeded to start a carriage company
Business prospered for Charles Eckhart and allowed him to start stepping away from the business around 1895. His sons Frank and Morris Eckhart took on management duties at the buggy company. Charles began to pursue politics and ran for governor of Indiana on the prohibition ticket in 1900, for Mayor of Auburn in 1904, and for congress in 1908. He ended up not winning election in any of these races. Afterward Charles Eckhart took up philanthropy and donated considerable funds to several buildings and projects around Auburn, Indiana. The earliest is Eckhart Public Library, built in 1910 which Mr. Eckhart paid for entirely out of his own pocket at a cost back then of $40,000 and he oversaw the entire project and construction. He went on to found and build a YMCA in Auburn in 1914 and Eckhart Park in 1915.
During this time, Frank and Morris Eckhart got interested in automobiles and in 1902 founded the Auburn Automobile Company. They continued to run the company until they sold it to a group of investors in Chicago, Illinois headed by William Wrigley, Jr. in 1919. At this time they were already living in California. Charles Eckhart passed away in 1915.