Automobile and Driver's Robe

Object Spotlight
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Crookham’s lap robe shows signs of wear from 45 years of use.

This automobile and driver’s robe was manufactured by the Chicago Auto Robe Supply Company. It protected drivers of the day from the cold and dirt associated with open-air vehicles. The robe is just over four feet tall and 40” wide. Also called a lap robe, it is a rubberized canvas lined with forest-green wool. Opening in the back, it is held around the body by a steel spring band in the waist, and closed at bottom with leather overshoes.

Automobile and Driver's Robe

Spring-belt lap robe advertisement in a rural letter carrier magazine
Among other publications Hoenigsberger advertised his “spring-belt” lap robe in rural letter carrier magazines.

This robe was owned by Forrest W. Crookham, a rural letter carrier from Roseville, Illinois. Crookham began his career as a carrier in 1915 and was still working 45 years later when he donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1960. The robe kept him warm as he made his daily rounds in his horse-drawn wagon and after he got his first automobile. Crookham was thankful for the robe. “It was a God-send to me as before wearing it I froze or frosted my feet every winter.”1

The robe’s creator was Harry Hoenigsberger. Harry’s father Arnold was a German immigrant who moved his family to Chicago in 1892. Using experience he had gained while working in the fur trade in Brooklyn, Arnold opened the Perfection Fur Robe Company with Harry and his other son, Dave. The business manufactured fur robes, coats, baby carriage robes and other fur accessories. The company store was located at 155-159 Market Street. After his father’s death in 1901, Harry Hoenigsberger opened his own store, the Chicago Auto Robe Supply Company, located in the same building as his father’s store.

Spring-belt lap robe advertisement in a rural letter carrier magazine
Illustration of the lap robe from Hoenigsberger’s 1906 patent.

On June 12, 1906 Harry received patent #823,469 for this lap robe “intended more particularly for use by automobilists or drivers; and the objects of the invention are to provide a robe in the general form of a bag which can be quickly and easily adjusted to fit the body of the wearer and at the same time enable the wearer to remove the robe instantly and without difficulty in case of emergency.”2 Since the robe was wrapped around the driver’s stomach, it left his or her hands free to operate the vehicle. The foot pads would keep the driver’s feet warm while still allowing for easy use of pedals. Harry’s advertisements for the lap robe emphasized the simplicity of getting in and out of the device. Since it had no buckles or snaps “just a light fine spring,” it could fit everyone, “men or women.”

Harry’s business did well and he made a place for himself in Chicago society, listed in the city’s Blue Book. Harry’s listing showed him living at 4807 Forestville Avenue in 1910 along with his widowed mother, Rose. Harry served in the Illinois state assembly for over a decade and passed away in 1971.

Written by Nancy A. Pope


1) Personal correspondence Forrest W. Crookham to Tommy Martin, President RLCA, December 5, 1960. Smithsonian Institution accession file.

2) U.S. Patent #823,469, June 12, 1906, section #10.