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Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation, Bohnalite Pistons, Cylinder Heads and other Post War Designs

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.

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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.

                          

11 responses to “Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation, Bohnalite Pistons, Cylinder Heads and other Post War Designs

  1. Not sure if I’m reading this correctly:

    Reo Motor Car Company Plant

    http://www.cr.nps.gov/nhl/DOE_dedesignations/Reo.htm

    In the years after Olds left Reo, the firm continued to experience serious financial problems. Although World War II truck orders enabled it to make something of a comeback, the company remained unstable in the postwar era. In 1954 the company was sold to the Bohn Aluminum and Brass Company of Detroit, and three years later it became a subsidiary of the White Motor Company. White merged Reo with Diamond T Trucks in 1967 to form Diamond Reo Trucks, Inc. In 1975, this firm filed for bankruptcy and most of its assets were liquidated.

    Bohn bought Reo? White bought Bohn?

  2. Many of the BOHN illustrations were created by futurist Arthur Radebaugh. I once owned an original Radebaugh airbrush illustration, which he painted for Hearst Publications and was used on the cover of MOTOR magazine in 1936. To see more examples, copy and paste this phrase into a Google image search: “Bohn Radebaugh”.

  3. I’ve had two contacts with automotive Bohnalite cast aluminum parts for my cars.
    The first was the two-piece sandwich steel and aluminum high compression cylinder head for my ’34 Terraplane. Steel upper, gasket, aluminum lower and head gasket to block. The aluminum section had the Bohnalite name cast into it. This was a production option as I recall for ’34 and ’35 Terraplane sixes and Hudson eights as well.
    Secondly I owned a ’53 Chrysler New Yorker Special coupe. The Specials were an equipment package available in ’53-54 intended for racers in NASCAR, AAA, and the Carera Panamericana. Most were equipped with a cast iron single 4bbl intake. But this very late ’53 production car and a few others that followed in ’54 employed a dual quad aluminum intake cast by Bohnalite. In essence this was the equivalent of the ’55 C300 engine.

  4. Bohn became a part of the Gulf+Western Manufacturing Company, one of the major components of the old Gulf+Western conglomerate. I don’t know when G+W acquired it, nor whatever became of the Bohn Metals Division after the conglomerate began to be broken up in 1983. When I worked for G+W Manufacturing from 1981-83, Bohn made aluminum and brass tubing and both rough-cast and finished permanent mold aluminum pistons for a number of engine manufacturers. General Motors was its largest customer at that time.

  5. I love reading about the history of Bohn. I have one of their old trucks, an old REO F-22. I scraped some paint off the door and found the name of the company, then while I was researching Bohn, found your site. Looks like the truck was probably a stock delivery truck. At some point it became a logging truck, had the frame extended two feet, was sold to a farmer and had the stake bed installed, and now I own the old girl.

    The artwork for this company is absolutely fantastic. I wish it were still around today, I love the character!

  6. My father has a very original 1922 V8 Oldsmobile Super Sport in for service (original paint, interior, etc etc… after lifting out the original carpets he found the original paper sheets over the linoleum floor covering had never been peeled off, it only has 12,000 miles) I was taking pictures of it and noticed it is loaded with Aluminum pieces, the 4 step plates (no runningboards), Carb, waterpump and what caught my eye was the -cylinder block cast – 7-30-1921 BOHN

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