About twenty-five years after the first patent was issued for a gasoline powered automobile in 1895, Huntingdon businessman W. Emmert Swigart began to assemble his collection of automobiles. Mr. Swigart recognized that the industry was rapidly developing and that many early manufacturers had already disappeared, so he concentrated on salvaging automobiles before they were scrapped for junk or had given up many of their parts to save some other mechanized contraption. He displayed his collection in the offices and on the lawn of the insurance business of which he was a founding partner, and by the 1930s, both Swigart's business and his automobile collection had outgrown the available office space. In 1935 Mr. Swigart purchased a large, colonial home on Penn Street in Huntingdon and renovated it to accommodate both the insurance business and the collection. In addition to a modern business facility, the refurbished building included woodwork and mantels salvaged from 18th century buildings in Philadelphia intended to serve as a backdrop for the automobile name plates, license plates, and other antiques on display.
In addition to automobiles, Mr. Swigart amassed what is thought to be the largest automobile nameplate and license plate collections in the world. Often his insurance agents out in the field would scour junk yards looking for abandoned cars and return to the office with buckets of name plates, radiator ornaments, and license plates, all then cleaned and mounted by the office staff. By the time of his death in 1949, W. Emmert Swigart had preserved twelve early automobiles plus thousands of automobile related items and literature. William E. Swigart, Jr., one of his five children and the only one who shared his father's passion for antique automobiles, then stepped into a greater role in the insurance business and took over the care of and display of the collection. He brought most of the collection together under one roof in a former carriage house located at the rear of the Swigart Associates building, naming it the Swigart Memorial Motor Museum. The collection rapidly outgrew the building, and in August, 1957, Mr. Swigart opened the newly constructed Swigart Museum on Route 22, three miles east of Huntingdon. William continued to expand the museum's holdings until his death in 2000, increasing the size of the collection to approximately 200 cars while simultaneously gaining notoriety as one of the top automobile collectors in the United States.
In 2007, sixty of the cars collected by William and his wife, Helen, were sold at auction by their heirs to satisfy Helen's portion of the estate. Today the museum operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit governed by a Board of Directors led by Patricia Swigart, an avid antique automobile enthusiast whom William married after the death of his first wife. The museum exhibits between 30 and 35 of the 140 cars that remain in the Swigart collection, along with automobilia, antique bicycles and toys, vintage clothing, and other fascinating bits of automotive culture. The museum is a member of the National Association of Automobile Museums and the American Association of Museums.