John Tjaarda Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

John Tjaarda, design engineer who influenced the automobile industry with his advanced, styling and engineering, was born 4 February 1897 in Arnheim, The Netherlands. After graduation from the Alexander Klemins School of Aeronautics in London, he joined...

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John Tjaarda, design engineer who influenced the automobile industry with his advanced, styling and engineering, was born 4 February 1897 in Arnheim, The Netherlands. After graduation from the Alexander Klemins School of Aeronautics in London, he joined the Royal Dutch Air Force.

In 1923 Tjaarda emigrated to the United States, obtained employment as a design assistant with Locke & Co. of Rochester, N.Y., an automobile manufacturer of bodies for Stutz, Pierce Arrow and Packard. During this time, he designed and built a prototype of a small, rear-engine automobile, the Sterkenburg, named after his family’s home in the Netherlands.

Impressed by his design ability, Walter O. Briggs, in 1932, hired Tjaarda to work in, and eventually head the design engineering division of the Briggs Manufacturing Company, of which the LeBaron division was a custom body subsidiary designing bodies for Ford, Packard and Chrysler. Tjaarda, encouraged by Edsel Ford, produced a full-size, fully detailed wood frame mockup of a rear- engine automobile. It was included in the 1933 Ford Exhibition of Progress in Detroit and in the Ford exhibit at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair, A Century of Progress. This prototype was the basis for Tjaarda's most notable design, the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr.

In 1941, a patent disagreement between Tjaarda and the officers of Briggs developed and Tjaarda's employment was abruptly terminated. Many years of legal battles followed. In 1942, Tjaarda organized his own design firm, John Tjaarda and Associates. Again, he attempted to design, finance and manufacture his own automobile, the Cortez. Due to lack of financing, he was not successful. Then, in 1961, pursuing an interest in solid state rocketry, he joined the Aerojet-General Corporation, Sacramento, CA as a technical adviser. His colorful life came to an end in 1962.

John Tjaarda's advanced work on unit-body construction and rear engine automobiles were important contributions to automotive design. His work had simplicity, refined design, and lightweight structural strength.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection contains legal correspondence, patent correspondence, general correspondence, newspaper/periodical articles, photographs, and a sketchbook. The majority of the correspondence concerns Tjaarda's legal battles with Briggs Manufacturing Company and Chrysler Corporation.

Collection Details

Object ID: 87.1.1714.1
Creator: van Starkenberg, Joop "Jan" Tjaarda, 1897-1962 
Inclusive Dates: 1916-1962
Size: 0.8 cubic ft. and 1 oversize box
Language: English

Collection Access & Use

Item Location: Benson Ford Research Center

Access Restrictions: The papers are open for research.

Credit: From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Related Objects

1936 Lincoln Zephyr Sedan

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Digitized Artifacts From This Collection

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John Tjaarda, Automotive Designer, circa 1935

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John Tjaarda, Automotive Designer, circa 1935

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

circa 1935

Summary

As head of the design engineering division of the Briggs Manufacturing Company, John Tjaarda designed automotive bodies for Ford, Packard, and Chrysler. Ford exhibited one of his mockups, a frame for a rear-engine automobile, at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair. The frame became the basis of his most notable design: the popular 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr.

Creators

Gibson Studios 

Object ID

87.1.1714.7

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

John Tjaarda, Automotive Designer, circa 1935

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

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