Book chronicles Packard family history

A.J. “Jim” Balfour fell in love with Packard automobiles at age 13, the first time he got a ride in a brand new 1953 Packard Caribbean convertible.

A year later, he bought an old 1928 Packard Eight roadster, the first of a half dozen Packards he’s owned in his lifetime.

“I was just in awe about how beautiful they were, how well put together they were,” he said

While the history of the automobiles has been well-documented, Balfour felt the Warren family responsible for what once was the largest luxury car manufacturer in the world hadn’t gotten the attention it deserved.

Balfour, who lives in Dowagiac, Mich., sets out to correct that with the new book “More Than Automobiles: The Packards of Warren, Ohio.”

His focus is on patriarch Warren Packard and his five children: William Doud Packard, James Ward Packard, Alaska Packard, Carlotta Packard and Cornelia Olive Packard.

“They employed tens of thousands of people and raised the standard of living greatly,” he said. “Their philanthropy and the memorials really tell a story about how people appreciated what the Packards did for them. I’m not a Warren native, but I’m totally impressed with what they’ve done for this country and what they’ve done for Warren.”

While many are familiar with Packard Park and Packard Music Hall on Mahoning Avenue NW, two of the most notable examples of the Packards’ generosity, Balfour documents many others, such as the the leaded glass windows donated to Christ Episcopal Church and the plaques recognizing gifts that help build the Salvation Army and the original Warren Public Library.

“They were just very generous people,” he said.

There also are vintage photos of the homes Packard family members lived in locally and some of the structures they built, like the Packard Apartments at North Park Avenue and Porter Street NE. It originally was conceived as a home for Ward Packard’s mother and younger sisters as well as an investment property.

He also uncovered some interesting facts about the family members. James was incredibly shy but also was a genius who created automotive innovations that still are being used today. Alaska was a special agent with the FBI.

“(FBI Director) J. Edgar Hoover came in two years later,” Balfour said. “He didn’t like female agents, so she resigned or was fired.”

Balfour said his interest in the family was an outgrowth of his love of the cars, and he started researching it five years ago at the encouragement of his wife, Ann, who died last year.

“She got me going on it,” he said. “She thought it would keep me out of her hair, I guess.”

Terry Martin, one of the founders of the National Packard Museum, and Cindee Mines, president of the Trumbull County Historical Society board, were valuable resources while working on the project. Balfour called Martin’s book, “Packard: The Warren Years,” the best book written about the automobiles, and described Mines as, “A real birddog on these things. She’s excellent in uncovering information.”

Martin will interview Balfour at the National Packard Museum from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, and the interview will be recorded on video for the museum’s archives. Museum visitors will be able to watch the interview while it’s being recorded. A book signing will follow from 5 to 6 p.m., and Balfour said he plans to have Martin and Mines with him at the book signing because of their contributions to the project.

The book is available for $34.95 at the museum, and Balfour is donating all proceeds from the book to the museum.

“I’m rather loyal to the museum,” he said. “It’s a Packard repository.”