Brown Industries

From Sheet Metal to Airplanes

Brown Metal Works started as a sheet metal production business but during World War 2 the Brown Brothers' passion for aviation led to shifting the companies focus.

During the Second World War businesses across the nation began to shift their production to help focus on supporting the war effort. One such business located in Spokane was Brown Metal Works, later called Brown Industries.

Located on the corner at East Sprague Ave and North Grant St., Brown Metal Works was founded in 1889 by six brothers who moved to Spokane after the Great Fire and began manufacturing sheet metal products. The company moved away from producing roof shingles and other sheet metal construction materials and began producing buses, dump trucks, trailers, and other metal automobile parts.

In 1929, brothers Thoburn and William Brown took over the family business. Thoburn was interested in aviation and in 1930 the two brothers unveiled their first all-metal airplane design. They produced two more planes, but ultimately the economic downturn forced them to focus on the more profitable automobile.

When the United States entered World War II Brown Metal Works, now Brown Industries, moved production to Felts Field and gained contracts to produce parts for military aircraft under Boeing, Lockheed, and Douglas. Using aluminum from the nearby Kaiser Aluminum plant Brown produced parts for B-17 bombers and A-26 attack-bomber planes.

After the war, Brown Industries returned to producing automobiles. Brown was contracted to outfit a local bookmobile and in the end, produced one of the first aluminum-bodied cargo vans in the country. Brown was able to expand to a nationwide market with this new line of vehicles. In 1959 Brown Industries was bought by Clark Equipment Company a business out of Michigan. Today after changing owners and parent companies several times Brown Cargo Van Inc based in Kansas still produces trucks and moving equipment.