In 1909 a Fiat auto plant was built in Northern Poughkeepsie NY across from Marist College and bordered by Rt9 and Fulton Street. Headed up by a wealthy diamond merchant, plans were to sell these cars to wealthy Americans. Wealthy was the key, the factory built only large cars that competed with the finest brands of the time, such as Peerless and Pierce-Arrow. Prices ranged from $4000 to $6100; about $101,900 to $155,340 when adjusted for inflation.
Contrary to popular belief, this venture was a private undertaking and not funded by Fiat of Italy. “A royalty was paid to Fiat in Turin Italy on each chassis” while the American company had rights to all of the Italian designer’s patents.
While Fiat of Turin Italy made both small fast cars (a whopping 60hp back then) and larger touring cars, the American company focused more on large touring cars and the mammoth Type 56, 45 HP, 6 cylinder, 7 passenger Limousine model with four-speed manual transmission. This car weighed about 5,000 pounds, had no front brakes and cost about $5,000. I didn’t know that 45hp could move a 5000 pound car!
Anyway, by 1912 over 300 vehicles a year were being made. Production reached its zenith in 1914 with four different models but by the end of 1918 it was pretty much over for the ill destined venture.
In 1917, Fiat in Italy took over the American Poughkeepsie Fiat Plant, and the Type 55 became the sole offering until production ceased by year’s end. a corporate victim of World War I. The plant at that time was making munitions for the WW1 effort. Many credit WW1 and the lack of a competitively priced vehicle for the demise of the venture. In 1935 Western Publishing moved in and stayed until 1983. After that the site was used by Marist College, a Staples, a Job Lot, and finally a Home Depot.