The Crossley brothers were committed Christians and strictly teatotal. They refused to supply their products to companies such as breweries, whom they did not approve of. They adopted the early Christian symbol of the Coptic Cross (Coptic Christianity) as their company’s emblem.
Francis and William Crossley set up their business in 1867 with a loan from their Uncle enabling them to purchase the engineering firm of John M Dunlop in Manchester. They worked as manufacturers of textile machinery, small steam engines and rubber producing plants The brothers had previously both served engineering apprenticeships at other firms. Francis at Robert Stephenson and Company; and William at W.G. Armstrong.William concentrated on the business side, Frank provided the engineering expertise. They also purchased the patent of Otto and Langden of Cologne’s new gas fueled atmospheric internal combustion engine in 1869 and a decade later these rights were extended to Ottos famous four stroke cycle engine. The changeover to four stroke engines was remarkably rapid with the last atmospheric engines being made in 1877. The company expanded rapidly with adoption of the heavier fuelled ‘oil’ engine. The first one was demonstrated in 1891.In 1896 Crossley obtained the rights to the diesel system, which used the heat of compression alone to ignite the fuel. Their first diesel vehicle was built in 1898.
Crossley was renown for its assembly line which influenced many other companies. Henry Ford is reported to have visited Crossley’s factory at Pottery Lane at the turn of the century. Crossley branched into automobile manufacture in 1903 building over 650 vehicles in their first year of production. From 1910, Crossley Motors operated as a stand alone company and became a major supplier of military vehicles during the First World War. After the war they produced civilian trucks and moved further into bus manufacture. Crossley had bought back large numbers of their trucks that had been built for the British Army and converted them for civilian commercial use.
In 1920 Crossley acquired a major shareholding in AV Roe and Company (Avro) but had to sell them in 1928 to cover the extensive losses incurred with the development of the Willy’s Overland Crossley earlier that decade. This had been a joint venture between Crossley and the USA based Willys Overland company which had been set up by bicycle manufacturer John Willys. Avro was sold to Armstrong Siddely but the partnership with John Willy continued up until 1934. In 1933 Crossley were the first British car company to offer a factory fitted car radio.
Crossleys range of heavy goods vehicles started in1931 with the diesel-powered 12-ton payload Atlas but only a few were made as the factory was concentrating on buses and military orders. From 1936 military production was ramped up with production of the ‘IGL’ military models. From 1940 they were made with a four-wheel drive "FWD" chassis in both tractor and truck variants. By the end of the war in 1945 over 10,000 FWDs had been produced at Crossley. These were known as Crossley Q models or Crossley FWD. After the Second World War Crossley won what was then the largest ever British export order for buses with a contract from the Dutch government.
In 1948 the company’s directors decided it was too small an operation to survive financially against emerging corporations and agreed a take-over by the Associated Equipment Company (AEC). AEC continued production at the Crossley plant until 1952 afterwhich only AEC badged designs were produced. Production at the Crossley factories ceased in 1958. The company was restarted in 1969 with the production of single decker buses under the banner of Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV) which ultimately became Leyland National. From 1904 to 1938 Crossley produced approximately 19,000 high quality cars and 5,500 buses from 1926 until 1958 and 21,000 goods and military vehicles from 1914 to 1945.