The history of Marathon Motor Works provides a spectacular though short-lived example of new industry during one period of Nashville boosterism. Augustus H. Robinson, owner of the Maxwell House Hotel, masterminded the removal from Jackson of the automotive division of Southern Engine and Boiler Works to Nashville in 1910. From then until 1914, the company produced motor cars at 1200 Clinton Avenue in what had been a vacant cotton mill. Marathon Motor Works became the South’s premier attempt to compete nationally in the pre-World War I automotive industry. Marathons were the only automobiles completely manufactured in Tennessee before the 1980s.
Initially the Marathon was named the Southern. William Collier, a Southern Engine and Boiler Works engineer, designed an automobile in 1906, and by 1910 approximately six hundred cars were made in Jackson and sold as Southerns. The two models, a rumble-seat roadster and a five-seat touring car, sold for fifteen hundred dollars. The discovery of another auto also called Southern led Collier to name his models Marathon.
After the move to Nashville, the line expanded to five models in 1911 and to twelve models on four chassis in 1913. The work force also grew from seventy-five to four hundred employees. The factory building was enlarged, and an administration building was constructed in 1912. The production rate rose to two hundred cars monthly, with predictions of building five thousand cars annually.
Tennessee Highway Department officials used Marathons when determining the Memphis-to-Bristol Highway route in 1911. Nationally run advertisements showed different Marathon models before Nashville’s Parthenon and Belmont Mansion, and Marathon first sold cars overseas in 1912. They added cheaper models along with the top-of-the-line Champion. For this car, Collier lengthened the wheelbase and enlarged the four-cylinder engine to forty-five horsepower. He also continued his practice of using aluminum for some parts and acquiring patents for innovations later used throughout the industry.
Collier disagreed with the company president in 1913 and was demoted. Marathon had three presidents in four years, and its board of directors, composed of Nashville business leaders, did not watch the company closely. Collier filed charges of mismanagement; suppliers of parts claimed lack of payment. In 1914 Marathon stopped building cars, though the factory produced parts until 1918. After that time, Marathon faded from public memory. The buildings survive, having served several businesses before renovation and adaptive reuse in the 1990s. The factory at 1200 Clinton Avenue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.