Jordan Playboy: The epitome of 1920s automobile style

Although few people realize it now, Cleveland once had a thriving automobile industry. Wintons, Baker Electrics, White Steamers, Rauch and Langs, and Peerless luxury cars could all be seen on the city’s streets.

Founded in 1916 by the colorful Edward S. “Ned” Jordan, the Jordan Motor Car Company is as well remembered for its innovative advertising campaigns as it is for building quality cars.

<span class="content-image-text">The Jordan Playboy, a stylish roadster produced in the early 1920s</span>The Jordan Playboy, a stylish roadster produced in the early 1920sIts best-known product was the Jordan Playboy, a stylish roadster produced in the early 1920s.

The company was in Collinwood on East 152nd Street. A railroad siding at the plant facilitated deliveries as well as the transportation of completed cars to dealers.

Like several other cars in that era, Jordans were assembled, rather than manufactured. This meant that components were subcontracted and brought to the factory to be made into completed cars.

Advances in automotive paint technology pioneered by Cleveland’s Sherwin-Williams meant that prospective buyers were not limited by Henry Ford’s famous dictum, “They can have any color they want, as long as it’s black.”

Potential Jordan buyers were given a range of color choices.

The Playboy benefited from having vibrant paint colors, a sophisticated advertising campaign, and a local manufacturer, and it was seen as a rightful successor to earlier Mercer Raceabouts and Stutz Bearcats.

The success was due to the hard work and ingenuity of company founder Edward S. Jordan. Known familiarly as Ned, he was born in Merrill, Wisconsin in 1882.

<span class="content-image-text">Edward S. "Ned" Jordan, ca. 1914</span>Edward S. "Ned" Jordan, ca. 1914A hard worker from the start, Jordan worked his way through the University of Wisconsin as a sports reporter, earning high grades in the process. After graduation Jordan came to Cleveland to work for the “Cleveland Press” before heading to Dayton to work for the National Cash Register Company (NCR).

After one year at NCR, Jordan went to work in 1907 for automobile manufacturer Thomas B. Jeffery Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin—his introduction to the automobile business.

His stint in Dayton was brief, but he learned a valuable lesson from NCR founder John Patterson. The secret of success was to do one thing a little better than anyone else.

One thing Jordan did better than anyone else was advertise and promote his cars.

Establishing his own car company in Cleveland in 1916, Jordan composed one of the most memorable car advertisement slogans of the 20th Century: “Somewhere West of Laramie.”  The full-page ad appeared in a June 1923 “Saturday Evening Post,” depicting a young woman driving a Jordan Playboy and keeping pace with a rider on a galloping horse.

<span class="content-image-text">Jordan Motor Car Company ad from the Saturday Evening Post</span>Jordan Motor Car Company ad from the Saturday Evening PostFor the first time, such an ad showed a car as an expression of self-image and lifestyle instead of a bland recital of cubic inches and stopping distances.

For a while the ad worked like a charm in generating sales. Unfortunately, it was a short while, and ended with the stock market crash. The company staggered on a bit longer, but by 1931 it was over.

Also over was Jordan’s 28-year marriage. He left Cleveland and lived in obscurity in the Caribbean for several years as he struggled with alcoholism. Back on his feet by the late 30s he was employed during WW II by a company making aircraft seats for the war effort.

A resident of New York City in later life, he ended his days as a columnist writing about the early days of the car industry for an automotive magazine.

Jordan died in 1958. By the time of his death, the cars Jordan built a generation earlier were prized collector’s items.

While one hasn’t been seen on Cleveland streets in something like three-quarters of a century, a nicely restored Jordan Playboy greets visitors at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, where it can be admired and inspire speculation about what might have been.

About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.