The Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation was a very forward thinking organization that appears to have been started in the mid 1920s. It was formed by the merger of the General Aluminum and Brass Company and the C. B. Bohn Foundry Company.
The C. B. Bohn Foundry Company was active at least back to the pre and post WWI era. The Electrical World magazine of May 17, 1919, announced that plans were being prepared for an eighty by one hundred foot building and power plant for the company. Reference was also found to the firm building two modern electric furnaces in 1918 for melting and refining brass. The Bohn building was located on 2512 E. Grand Blvd, which was near the Packard Plant.
Being in the Detroit area and right near Packard, Bohn supplied both high quality aluminum and brass specialty castings to the car and truck maker along with the many other automobile companies in the area.
The next reference to be found involving the company is, with Adolph Lincoln Nelson who is reported to have first worked for the Premier Motor Co. Next he was involved with work on the synchronized airplane based machine gun. Nelson then went on to invent the Nelson-Bonalite aluminum piston. This piston in the late 1920s was also referred to as the invar strut piston. An arrow in the advertisement (below) points to the strut that was cast into this type of precision die-cast pistons.
Bohn was next found (above), in an ad from the Motor Age, dated Nov. 18, 1926. When enlarged, details of the pistons with the invar alloy struts will be clear. Invar is a low expansion steel alloy of 36% nickel and 64% iron, which assists in keeping the piston from expanding.
Just (below) an interesting accounting by Walter L. Carver in the March 4, 1926 Automotive Industries, details how the company also manufactured precision bronze-backed babbitt-lined main and rod bearings for engines.
Carver also tells the story of how this type of piston is manufactured, along with how the invar strut is locked into the aluminum die cast piston. He then goes on to explain how this type of modern piston can be fit much closer than the cast iron pistons of the day.
In 1934 the Bohn concern sponsored the Bohnalite Special that was entered in the 1934 Indianapolis 500. The car was driven by Chet Miller and his mechanic was Eddie Tynan. According to information from The Hot Rods of Dearborn: Don ‘Sully’ Sullivan, laid out the Bohnalite Special. The Indy racer was built on ’32 rails along with the stock suspension components and featuring split front wishbones (much in same manor that thousands of hot rodders would do for decades and decades afterwards). It marked the second year for the presence of the Ford flathead V-8 at Indy. In 1933 the Warnock Special was entered and rumored to have the involvement of Sully as well.
The Bohn racer featured Bohn’s own Bohnalite aluminum racing cylinder heads and .030” over pistons giving an 8-1/2 to 1 compression ratio. The intake manifold was designed by Sully which had two Stromberg 97’s mounted sideways, lining up the fuel bowls with the centrifugal force on the turns.
The car qualified with a speed of 109.252 mph. Unfortunately on the 11th lap Chet Miller and the riding mechanic, Eddie Tynan left the track flying over the wall due to an encounter with an oil slick. Photos courtesy of Racemaker Press.
The next references found to Bohn were in Time Magazine, who reported on Oct. 15, 1934 : Last week President Charles Benjamin Bohn of Detroit’s Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corp. announced that his company, after five years of research, had discovered a method, technically ingenious and commercially feasible, for producing virgin aluminum from alunite. Alunite is a whitish ore containing potassium aluminum sulphate.
Let alone reveal the method, President Bohn would not even name the researchers who developed it. But he was eager to tell how he had started to build a $50,000 “pilot plant” in Detroit to iron out minor production kinks.
Other than the above, little information can be found on the corporation from that point on, other than a series of advertisements in magazines during WWII and just after, we found via Dan Strohl, some of which can be seen (below).
It appears that during the World War II years, Bohn probably became involved with the government and auto makers in manufacturing for the war effort. During this time period they also started advertising that they handled magnesium, another light alloy, in addition to aluminum and brass.
Offices for the corporation at the time are listed as being in the Lafayette Building in Detroit. The ad refers to the firm as: Designers and Fabricators – Aluminum – Magnesium – Brass – Aircraft – Type Bearings. Advertisements in the press at the time are seen here and they promoted some very futurist designs.
The milk tanker ad (above) is dated Dec. 1947, and wears a 1960 license plate. Left to right (below); A semi-truck and trailer from, Dec. 1943, a motorcycle from Sept. 1947 and a “Station Wagon” dated, Jan. 1944.
Little information can be found out about the firm post war online. We are hoping some of our readers from the Detroit area will know a bit more. Photos of Bohns buildings, along with more labor information were found at Historic Structures, who list them as having been demolished during 1981.