Tucker (The Man and his Dream) and the Mills Jukebox


Many people have probably seen the "Tucker .. The Man and His Dream", a 1989 film which starred Jeff Bridges and chronicled the life of Preston Tucker. Preston Thomas Tucker (1903-1956), among his other accomplishments attempted to build the This "Car of Tomorrow", what was to be called the "Tucker 48".

The Tucker '48 premiered June 19, 1947 in the Tucker plant before the press, dealers, distributors and brokers. The Tucker 48 was designed in Michigan, and built in Chicago in a vast factory that is now the site of the "Ford City Mall" on Cicero Avenue.

By the spring of 1948, Tucker had a pilot production line set up but on May 28, 1948, the SEC and the Justice Department launched a full-scale investigation. Investigators swarmed the plant and Tucker was forced to stop production and lay-off 1600 workers. Tucker had powerful enemies which included the major automobile manufacturers who considered him a threat. Although no direct connection between the fact that the major automobile manufacturers considered the Tucker a threat and the government investigation, the reader can connect the dots. The SEC's case had to show that the Tucker car could not be built, or if built, would not perform as advertised, but Tucker was building cars. Seven "Tuckers" performed beautifully at speed trials in Indianapolis that November ('48), consistently making 90 mph lap speed. However after Thanksgiving, a skeletal crew of workers assembled the remaining 50 cars the company would ever produce (51 were built including the prototype of which 47 survive) . In January 1949, the plant closed and the company was put under trusteeship. (If you want to know more, the movie is considered to be a fairly factual representation of the life of Preston Tucker ... he actually designed a army Jeep but it was rejected since it went to fast!)

So what does this have to do with Jukeboxes?

Around the same time Tucker was attempting to build his automobiles in Chicago, Mills was producing jukeboxes not far away. Mills was making the Constellation (Model 951), but by early 1947 they stopped advertising their machines ... not a good sign. By January 1948 they petitioned the federal court asking for time to pay their debts, the petition was granted but by December that year they sold their complete phonography inventory to H.C. Evans of Chicago. Evans began producing the Constellation under their brand name. Obviously Evans didn't need any of the parts with the Mills Logo .... so what happened to them?

50+ Years later the truth comes out

A few years ago , I was contacted by the curator of the Tucker Museum, he had done an internet search for "Mills" and found my website (The InComplete Jukebox -{tomszonecom}). He had been contacted by an individual who was performing a meticulous restoration of a "Tucker" and this person was discovering that many of the Tucker parts were from other from manufactured items. Specifically while restoring the steering wheel he came to the conclusion that the horn ring was a was from a 1942 Lincoln. The pictures he sent are shown below which clearly indicate that the Tucker Horn Ring was a chopped version of the '42 Lincoln. This is probably logical since Tucker was building a car from scratch but with an initial small production run, who could afford to custom make parts? It is clear that the many of the parts of the original 51 Tuckers were cobbled together from items that the staff could find and retrofit rather than manufacture ... but getting to the reason for this article. The restorer found that when he took apart the horn button from the Tucker ... he found the following ... although backwards ... the word clearly spelled "Mills Music" ... the curator and restorer knew nothing about Mills hence the note to my site. They sent the photos shown here ... it only took a few minutes to determine that the "Mills Music" was the front grille medallion from the Mill Constellation ... which as mentioned earlier, the Constellation and all it parts were sold to Evans.

So what happened? The curator and restorer wanted to believe that Tucker and Mills employees ate at the same luncheonette and hence the deal was made. I liked that but and until recently have kept that as the idea.

Recently I looked at the location of the Tucker Plant (Cicero) versus the Mills Plant at Fullerton Ave ... I was really hoping that they were next door ... unfortunately they were almost 15 miles apart ... which in a City like Chicago is almost an eternity ... so I guess we can't assume the romantic notion that the employees talked over lunch. My guess is that Tucker was aware of Mills financial situation and sent folks to see what parts might be used. Still a good story ...

If you are lucky enough to see a Tucker automobile, hidden within the steering wheel is the grille medallion from a Mills Constellation

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