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The Story of the Hearse

Published: April 18, 2022

Widely known in the funeral industry as a “funeral coach”, a hearse is a vehicle that is used to transport the body and casket of a deceased person during a funeral service. It has a long station-wagon like shape, two seats in front, and a large, rectangular, covered trunk. The back windows are typically draped with curtains to hide the coffin from view.

Origins and History

The word “hearse” comes from the Middle English word “herse,” a type of candelabra often placed on top of a coffin. The meaning of the word changed sometime in the 17th century when people started using the word to refer to a horse-drawn carriage that took the casket to the burial place during a funeral procession.

By the turn of the 20th century, motorized vehicles started to appear. Did you know the first hearse motors were electric? It was in 1909 when the first hearse with an internal combustion engine appeared at the funeral of Wilfrid A. Pruyn. It was H.D. Ludlow, the undertaker, who commissioned a customized vehicle to be built from the body of a horse-drawn hearse and the chassis of a bus. Ludlow used it in 13 more funerals before replacing it with a bigger model.

They didn’t come cheap. It cost $6,000 per hearse while a horse-drawn carriage cost only $1,500. However, as internal combustion engines became more powerful and affordable, most funeral directors started making a connection between fast moving hearses and the number of funerals that can be done in a day.

Crane and Breed Company from Cincinnati, Ohio became the first manufacturers of hearses. At 30 mph, the vehicles got the job done. It was in the 1930s that the longer, landau style hearse with its sleek and limousine-like appearance was introduced by Sayers and Scovill. They remain popular to this day.

Today, there is actually no car company that officially makes hearses, but there are coachbuilders who specialize in constructing hearses. Hearses are often hand-crafted by taking the body of an existing vehicle, removing the gas and break lines, cutting it in half, extending the length, adding back the lines and building in all the features needed to carry the deceased to their final resting ground. There are two main styles: the opaque rear that is common in America, and the rear with windows that is more common in the U.K.. Cadillac and Lincoln are among the most popular hearse donor vehicles in North America.

Hearse for Service

Having a hearse at your loved one’s service will lead the procession of mourners who want nothing but to lovingly lay their loved ones to rest with dignity. Funeral homes usually charge around $350 for hearse rental, which includes the hearse itself as well as the driver.

There are no requirements for hearse rental or hearse use at funeral services. It's not necessary for you to pay a hearse rental fee, nor is it required by any law. If you choose not to rent a hearse, you'll need to arrange separate transportation of the body and casket to the desired location. Speak to your funeral home about alternative transportation options if hearse rental is not desired by you or your family.

Here at Roupp Funeral Home, we’re happy to announce we’ve added a brand new hearse to our fleet as well as 2 new SUV’s from Travis Trutt of Fairfield Chevrolet in Lewisburg.

We also are excited to announce the addition of a motorcycle hearse. A motorcycle hearse is the perfect way to commemorate any motorcycle enthusiast. And here at Roupp Funeral Home, we offer families a unique way to honor and celebrate their loved ones. Funerals should be about celebrating life, not just mourning death.

For families wanting to honor their loved one by giving them one last ride to the cemetery, past their favorite hangout, by their house or anywhere else, our beautiful hearses offer families an opportunity as unique as their loved one.

To learn more, please call Roupp Funeral Home for more information!

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