September 11, 2021


E.A. Nelson, Mechanical Engineer (1917)

E A Nelson Motor Car Co. (1917-1920)
E A Nelson Automobile Co. (1920-1921)
Detroit, Michigan

This is a Nelson radiator emblem (1917-1920)    mjs
Size: 50mm diameter    MM: None

Emil A Nelson had been an engineer with Packard and Oldsmobile and, as Chief Engineer at Hupp Motor Car Company, had designed successful models for Hupmobile before his own venture into automobile manufacture. 

The Nelson was a well-designed, light weight, high speed, 29hp four-cylinder automobile, with a unique engine construction which offered excellent performance. The only problem was the timing of the enterprise. Emil Nelson did almost everything himself, he provided all the finance, built his own factory in Detroit and set up a production capacity of 10 cars a day. Production began in early 1917, before the E. A. Nelson Motor Car Company was established later in 1917.

But then came the post First World War depression. Nelson was in receivership in 1920 and reorganized as the E A Nelson Automobile Company later that year. Final bankruptcy arrived a year later after building just over 1,000 cars.


The first Nelson cars were built by Emil Nelson in his own factory, see early 1917 advertisement shown below:

Nelson ad (May 1917)  detroit free press

These first Nelson cars carried a round metal radiator emblem, see surviving example shown below:

This is a Nelson radiator emblem (1917)  pwc

This is the Nelson radiator emblem inscribed "E. A. Nelson Engineer" shown below. This Nelson radiator emblem is very rare.

This is a Nelson radiator emblem (1917)     sac   
Size: 51mm diameter   MM: Unknown

After the formation of the E. A. Nelson Motor Car Company later in 1917, there was a new radiator emblem, see example shown above at the top of this post and again below. This Nelson radiator emblem is rare.

This is a Nelson radiator emblem (1917-1920)   mjs
Size: 50mm diameter   MM: None

The following Nelson advertisement appeared in the Automobile Trade Journal in 1920. This advertisement shows a dark colored Nelson radiator emblem, whereas the Nelson radiator emblems in use up to that time had been plain metal emblems, as shown earlier above:

Nelson ad with dark color emblem (1920) ebay

The same dark colored emblem is shown in the 1920 Nelson brochure, see the cover sheet and internal detail shown below:

Nelson brochure cover sheet (1920)  sfam

Detail from Nelson brochure showing dark emblem (1920)  sfam

Close-up showing the colored Nelson radiator emblem (1920)

Examples of this particular colored Nelson radiator emblem, inscribed "E. A. Nelson Motor Car Co. Detroit", have not been found.   

However, I feel confident that this illustration of a colored emblem was intended to represent a new Nelson emblem, as it makes no sense to create a new colored emblem design with an incorrect inscription. This new Nelson radiator emblem may have been a trial emblem or a proposed emblem that was in the event never used or it may have been used but in such small numbers in the dying months of the Nelson car that we have not found the emblem yet. 

I suspect that, at a time when the Nelson company was struggling to survive, with falling sales and lack of finance, Emil Nelson may have decided to produce a brightly colored emblem to enhance the appeal of the Nelson, which had a rather drab metal emblem, and possibly to make the Nelson appear to be a new model without the expense of making any other material changes to the car. The 1920 Nelson was much the same as the 1917-1919 model. Putting a new emblem on a car to give the appearance of a new model was not uncommon for motor car companies in financial trouble. This could have taken place before the 1920 bankruptcy but, either not followed through or only a few colored enamel emblems may have been made and used. We may never know.

If an original colored Nelson radiator emblem could be found, it would be ultra rare.

The Nelson company was reorganized as the "E. A. Nelson Automobile Company" in late 1920 but I have never seen a Nelson radiator emblem inscribed with this company name. If an original Nelson radiator emblem inscribed with this company name could be found, it would be extremely rare and possibly ultra rare.

Emblem collectors should beware, however, as there are blue and red enamel Nelson emblems, but these are Pulfer reproduction emblems.They all have flat shiny backs, whereas the earlier metal Nelson radiator emblems had mounting cups attached for fixing through a hole in the radiator shell.

This is a reproduction Nelson radiator emblem   ms

This is a reproduction Nelson radiator emblem   ms

The following illustration shows Harry Pulfer's plans in 1969 to have his first reproduction colored Nelson emblems made:

Pulfer sketch showing ideas for reproduction Nelson emblems (1969)

It is interesting to note that the proposed Pulfer reproduction of a "E.A.Nelson Engineering" emblem was to be finished in red, white and blue enamel. I have never seen this reproduction Nelson emblem. Possibly it was decided not to proceed with this emblem. However, it is possible that some copies of this Pulfer reproduction emblem do exist somewhere. A reproduction "E.A.Nelson Engineer" emblem was made in the blue and red enamel proposed for the "regular" Nelson emblem, as shown above.

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