The beautiful Velie Monocoupe, a Moline legacy

If you like stories about planes and automobiles, you will like this one! 

Rex Cherrington, a historian from the Galesburg area had a picture of the Velie Monocoupe on Facebook and I had to know more. 

Rex said that this plane made by a company with agricultural roots was on display at the Quad Cities Airport in Moline, Illinois.  I knew a little bit about the Velie Company that was entwined with John Deere, but nothing about planes!  On our way to the Rock Island Farm show, Keith and I stopped off at the Quad Cities International Airport in Moline, Illinois to see this amazing site. 

It didn’t take us long to find the plane. Suspended from the ceiling, the lovely little plane had a  plaque  explaining that the airplane was built in 1928 and had ten different owners before being purchased by Charles Van Gundy  of Kansas City, Missouri in 1937.  It Robert and Emalou Laible of Parkville, Missouri, that purchased and restored the plane in 1970.

At the airport there is also a very cool stained glass window with the name Velie in it, but there is no visual documentation on where it came from.  One man working there told us he thought it came from the former Velie 46-room mansion that was built between1912-1913. The Velie family lived in the mansion until the Great Depression.  The house sat empty until it sold and became the Plantation restaurant, then it sold again and became another restaurant. Today, it serves as an office building.

The Velie/John Deere link is a family one.  Willard Lamb Velie was born in 1856.  His mother was Emma Deere, the daughter of John Deere, so W.L. Velie was John Deere’s grandson.  His father, Stephen H. Velie moved to Rock Island and worked for the C. C. Webber & Company, and in 1863 entered into a partnership with John Deere and became an officer in the newly formed company. 

Willard Velie would also work for Deere, but first he graduated from Yale in 1888 and went to Montana where he married Annie Flowerree, his college roommate’s sister.  Returning to the Quad Cities, in 1890,  Willard Velie worked as a clerk at Deere, then a year later, became a sales manager and following the death of his father, he replaced him as the corporate secretary and as a member of the board for Deere & Co. 

Ingenuity and business sense was rampant in the family, while still working for Deere, in 1902, Willard Velie founded the Velie Carriage Company of Moline. They made buggies, carriages, surreys, driving wagons, and spring wagons. Then in 1911 he also formed a second company, the Velie Engineering Company, which produced gas, steam and electric motors and engines, plus automobile accessories and motor trucks

When Velie’s cousin William Butterworth became president of Deere &Company in 1908, Velie became the vice-president and in 1911 he became the first chairman of the executive committee when it was formed.

In 1916 Willard Velie merged his two companies and began making tractors. Their first was the Velie Biltwel 12-24, a four-cylinder tractor powered by a Velie-built engine.

In 1921 Willard Velie resigned from Deere and Co. after disagreeing with the way the company was running their operations. By this time, the buggy business had been phased out and the Velie automotive production was flourishing.

In 1927,  Willard Velie, Jr. was named the company’s vice-president and just one year later, his father W.L. Velie Sr. died of an  embolism on October 10, 1928 and was buried at Riverside Cemetery in Moline, Illinois.

It was Willard Sr.’s son, Willard Jr. that brought airplanes into the family business. The company they purchased had developed the first six-cylinder valve-in-head airplane motor in 1919, and a five-cylinder radial aircraft that later powered the Velie Monocoupe.

The Monocoupe would fly 70-80 miles and hour and touted an enclosed cockpit to protect the two people that could ride in it from the weather. Some stats say that around 300 of the Monocoupes were built.  The developers of the engines and plane, Luscombe and Wallace formed the Central States Aero Company and after working with Central States, in 1928, the Velie family bought the company and called it  Mono Aircraft, Inc., making it  a subsidiary of Velie Motor Corporation. The Monocoupe was built from 1927 – 1929.  After the death of both Velie’s, the airplane division  was sold to a St. Louis company.

I was fascinated of the family history.  While I knew about the buggies and autos, I didn’t know about the tractors and planes.

If you want to see one of the legendary Moncoupe planes, head to the Quad City area and a visit to the Quad Cities Airport.  Thank you Rex Cherrington for sharing this information!

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  1. Polly

    There’s nothing I like more than an adventure spurred on by a totally random event, like seeing a photo on Facebook! Cool history!