History of Early American Automobile Industry

Chapter 7

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Motor-Car Journal, 1902

One very satisfactory piece of news comes from the United States with American Bubbles regard to the automobile industry. Many of the concerns that were floated two or three years ago to ostensibly deal in automobiles have vanished, as was predicted when they were boomed by certain journals. At the beginning of the modern industry several American financiers took advantage of public interest in the new business to avail themselves of the public capital as well. They started companies which did not intend to make motor-cars but simply to sell shares. A boom was made and this lasted for a little while. Now, however, only a few such concerns remaina circumstance which is of advantage to the legitimate industry.

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1903 Oldsmobile Advertisement
In more ways than one, this advertisement foretold the future of the automobile.

Copied from the 1903 Automobile Topics Magazine

I noticed that Col. Pope had a pleasing encounter with a Park policeman the other day, who insisted upon placing him under arrest because he did not display a number on an electric runabout. Said Col. Pope: "Oh, well, run me in if you want to, but hurry up about it, as I have an engagement to dine with the Police Commissioner at 7.30, and it is nearly 7 now. Gen. Greene will have to come down and dine in my cell or get me out in some way so that I can join him at the club. Of course, officer, I am a maker of all kinds of vehicles and I am as much interested in the maintenance of the law as you and your department are. My name is Col. Albert A. Pope." "Oh, well! sir," exclaimed the bewildered officer, "hurry along to your engagement, but don't go down Seventy-second Street, as they are watching to catch there the vehicles that escape me here."

By 1903, the American automobile's were becoming known as some of the best and more afforable than any of the automobiles that were being built overseas. Locomobile advertisements were seen with cars from South Africa to the South Pacific. The Waltham Orient Buckboard that just came on the market that year, would soon be not far behind. But with this much success and every one wanting a piece of the pie, a lot of men with a little money to invest, got caught up in the thrill of being able to cash in on this success. Some became rich, but in most cases, they were left holding a bag with nothing in it.

One such company was the Marlboro Automobile and Carriage Co. in Marlborough, MA.

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1899 Marlborough Stanhope

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In 1899, the owner of the company, Orrin P. Walker, anounced that he had completed his first car, a steamer, that he initially named it after himself, but changed to Marlboro. It was a well built car with some of the best equipment available. The price of $700 was reasonable for an automobile of this quality. In the first year he built and sold thirty. His success went to his head amd decided to step up production with maoney from stock holders.. However, he regrettable announced to his investors that he had made too many cars and was unable to sell them. so he had to temporarly shut down production. This action certainly did not set well with his investors. Early in 1903, the Marlboro company sold out to a shill company by the name of Videx that Walker owned.   No Videx automobiles were ever made and the company closed its doors.



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1902 Wheeler Runabout

In 1900, O. D. Wheeler convinced his father who owned a machine shop into helping him build an automobile. Three were built and they were runabouts.The first was powered by an air cooled engine. Another one was built the following year. The next one had a water cooled single cylinder De Dion engine. They decided to proceed into production in 1902.  When they went to the bank to finalize their loan agreement, the bank refused to do so because another bank had been victimized that week by a bad loan to a car to another car manufacturer and they were not going to chance it. The third one was never sold and still exists. This company had to close down because of a scam artist.

His brother, Earnest was the general manager of the Acme Motor Car Co. at Worcester in 1912. It was a delearship for Knox and Velie automobiles. He also owned the Wheeler's Screw Press. Although not building cars, he would do special work on a Knox and Velie for a customer and slip his Acme name to it.


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Herbert Franklin, the inventor of die casting in 1892, owned the Franklin Mfg. Company in Syracuse, NY. John Wilkinson, was a mechanic that had been experimenting with his air cooled automobiles and had made two prototypes by 1900. The two of them met when Wilkinson visited Franklin's factory. When Franklin saw the car, he was very impresed with the idea of making them. He discussed it with a friend, Alexander Brown, who belonged to the New York Automobile Club. It was agreed between the two that Wilkinson should proceed with a new prototype and the two put up an equal amount of money. Wilkinson was given the funds to proceed with his third model and it became Franklin's 1901 Prototype.

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1901 Franklin Prototype

A new company was formed as a subsidery of Franklin Mfg. Company with the name being Franklin Automobile Co., with Franklin being the president and Wilkinson was the chief engineer. Franklin ran the business, but the production was Wilkinson responsibility and he was given stock in the company. Production was started in 1901 with the first ones being ready by the spring of 1902.

From the beginnng, the Franklin was a luxury automobile with very distinct body styles. One did not have too look hard to recognize one because the quality and style was very identifibile. Franklin had their own decorating department and all bodies were painted to the customer's choice.


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1907 Franklin  Model D Laudaulette

1908 Franklin "G" Brougham National Automobile Museum Reno, Nevada by saimo_mx70.

1908 Franklin Limousine
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1911 Franklin Tonneau with a Renault Style Hood


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1924 Franklin Model with an Oval False Grill

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1925 Franklin Sedan Body designed  by Dietrick and Made by Walker Automobile Co., Amesbury, MA

1927 Franklin Sedan Automobile

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1930 Franklin Tandom Sedan Designed By Ray Dietrich and appeared at his stand in the 1930 New York Salon.

Throughout the years, the Franklin was the leader in patents for its automobile. It was a custommer friendly automobile in comfort and driveability. In 1924, there was a disagreement between Franklin and Wilkeinson over the stye of the grill for the 1925 model . Franklin dealerships convinced Franklin that a new grill should be designed for its new models. Franklin cars did not have one. H. Frank de Causse, a well known designer, who now worked for Franklin Automobile Co., was given instructions to design one. The design was a fake grill that looked out of place. Instead of approving of the new grill, Wilkinson resigned. The front grill became more conventional during the next three years when De Causse suddenly died. Franklin hired Ray Dietrich as the new designer. Dietrich was a well known designer with his own company, Dietrich, Inc

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1928 Franklin "el Pirate" Sedan

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1931 Franklin Victoria Coupe

Dietrich's sensational 1928 "el Pirate", the first American Automobile to be exibited in the New York Salon Show, is acknowledged as the first streamlined American body design, and Franklin incorporated many of its features in their 1930 line-up - which included the very collectible custom-bodied Franklin Pirates and Deauvilles, both built by Walker Body Company, Amesbury, MA. 

In 1928, Walker Body Co. was the largest users of aluminum in the world.

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1932 Airman
Last body built by Walker Body Co.

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1933 Model 17
Last Franklin before closing

In 1932, Franklin notified Walker that  they were not using any more of their bodies, and in 1934 Franklin shut down.


Thomas and Thomas Flyer


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1901 Buffalo Runabout

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1902 Buffalo Tonneau

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1902 Thomas Touring Automobile, Wells Maine Museum

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1902 Advertisement

E.R. Thomas, owner of the Buffalo Automobile & Auto-Bi Co., in Buffalo, NY, decided to use his name for the company in the Fall of 1902 and the the company was renamed the E.R. Thomas Motor Co. At least  two Thomas models were made that year. One belongs to a New Zeland collecter and it is now being restored and the other is in the Wells Museum, Wells, ME, in its original condition.

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1902 Thomas Rear Entrance Tonneau, original condition, body by Biddle and Smart

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1903 Thomas Rear Entrance Tonneau

Thomas automobiles got bigger, more powerful, and pricer and the name was changed to the Thomas-Flyer.

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1904 Thomas Flyer Limousine

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1906 Thomas Advertisement

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1905 Thomas Advertisement

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1906 Thomas-Flyer Touring

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1907 Thomas-Flyer on display at the National Museum, Reno. NV

Biddle and Smart Carriage Company, Amesbury, MA made the bodies for E. R. Thomas Motor Co. from the very beginning, especially the touring and closed bodies models.

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1911 Thomas Model K Touring

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Fort a short while after the 1907 Thomas model won the New York to Paris Race, there was a bump in sales. He kept building bigger and more expensive cars while he sales began to slide. Finally, in 1911, he gave the investment firm his entire business.When the firm tried an failed, it was resold in 1914. The new owner limped along to 1918 and called it quits.

Detroit, Mich., Oct. 3, 1903.
Another Auto in the Erie Canal.

Joseph Shehadi of Syracuse, N. Y., recently invested in an automobile and has become a familiar figure in the streets there where he speeds as fast as the law permits. A week ago Monday, in company with his nephew, Richard Wahas. and having $1,000 in currency which he intended to deposit in a local bank, Mr. Shehadi started down State street at a lively clip. The thoroughfare crosses the Erie Canal by means of a hoist bridge. When Mr. Shehadi's automobile came dashing alone the bridge was high in the air. Whether Mr. Shehadi did not notice the void or whether the brake of his machine refused to work he himself cannot tell. He only knows that in a moment he, his nephew and the automobile were in the canal. A large crowd gathered to watch the rescue. The two automobilists were dragged to the tow path, Mr. Shehadi clutching the bank roll. Ropes were fastened to the machine and it was pulled out. No serious injury was inflicted on men or machine. The Erie Canal seems to be getting quite popular as a temporary repository for the fast automobiles of Syracuse, this being the second event of its kind to happen within about a month.


Rollin White, son of Thomas White, manufacturer  of the White Sewing Machine Co. in Cleveland, OH, patented his automobile design in 1900. Unable to sell his steam car idea to other builders, he built his own work shop in a section of the sewing machine factory. His two brothers, Windsor and Walker joined him in his venture. Fifty cars were finished by the end of the year, but their father convinced them that before they were to be put up for sale, they should be thoroughly tested. A failure could seriously hurt the sewing machine business. After three months of testing, they were ready for sale in April of 1901.

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Two Views of the 1901 White Runabout Automobile

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1902  White Delivery Van

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1902 White Advertisement

From the very beginning the cars were an immediate success and won many race prizes.  A steam condenser ws added in 1902 and the 1903 model looked like the typical models of that year with front engines covered by a hood..

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1903 White Runabout with Mr. White

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Rollin White in his 1903 White Racer which Broke the 5 mile Record at Cleveland

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1905 White Side Entrance Tonneau

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1904 White Automobile Advertisement

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1905 White Advertisement

It became necessary in 1906 to separate the automobile department from its parent company to accommodate the growth of the business and to physically separate them, as a fire in the paint department of one could ruin both operations.

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1909 White, President Taft's Presendial Model

President Taft gave the 1909 model a special status when he selected the White to be the official Presendial Automobile. However, President Roosevelt had made his first ride in 1902,  when he rode in a White while visiting Puerto Rico.

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1906 White Advertisement

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1906 White Limousine


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1908 White Model L Touring

The White Company was always well aware of its competetion  in gasoline driven vehicles and after careful study decide to build gasonile models in 1910. They built 1200 steamers and 1200 gasoline models.

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1910 Gasoline Model

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1913 White-Riddle Ambulance

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1915 White-Riddle Hearse

In 1912, The White Company teamed with Riddle Hearse and Ambulance Co, Ravenna, OH. to manufacture the chassis and Riddle would build the bodies. This was due to a fire that partially destroyed the Riddle Factory in 1911  and the White Company was just a short distance away. White sold these vehicles through their dealerships.

While the automobile business was slowing down for White, the trucks were very popular and were gloabal sellers. When the war started, White closed down its automobile business and began making vehicles for the U. S. Government. Their truck manufacturing continued after the war an ceaed in 1985.

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1920 White Business Cars, the trunk lid could be removed to haul supplies

Rollin White Left the White Company shortly after his father died and started building tractors, Cletracs Tractor Co. , Cleveland . His tractor business which became one of the best in the busines. In 1923, he reentered into automobile manufacturing with his 1923 Rollin automobile.

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1925 Rollin Touring

For three years, it prospered, but sales deminished and like so many others, the stock market crash in 1929 caused its demise and he sold his tractor company to the White Company in 1930.


The H.H. Buffum Company of Abington, MA built touring cars and motor boats and if possible it departed from traditional looks. Initially, the cars had horiizantal motors with a composite chain and gear transmission, but in 1904, the motor was verticle with a cone clutch and sliding gear transmission. 

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1902 Buffum Rear Entrance

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1903 BuffumTonneau


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1904 BuffumTouring

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1906 Buffum Tonneau with detachable top

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1904 Buffum Advertisement

1905 Buffum Four Cylinder Runabout

1905 Buffum  Model G Geyhound Roadster with rumble seat

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1905 Buffum 100 Horse Power 8 cylinder Racer

The Eight cylinder Model "Greyhound" could travel at 80 mph was the first one in the country. It had a  four cylinder horizontal 16 horse power gasoline motor arranged with its two pairs of cylinders in opposition and placed under a bonnet in front making it the first V-8 automobile in the country. These V-8 cylinder cars were designed for touring. Buffum was an excellect coach builder who built his own bodies. The Buffum company was sold in 1907 to Bicknell Hall of Taunton who sold the remaining Buffums under his name.

New York Court Will Not Spare Reckless Automobilists.

Copied from the July 1902, Horseless Age Magazine

Last week Justice Holbrook, sitting as presiding justice in the Court of Special Sessions, with Justices Mayer and Hinsdale as associates, declared in imposing the maximum sentence allowed by law (a fine of $50) on a chauffeur who had been found guilty of driving an automobile faster than the law allows that in future all offenders against the anti-speed law convicted by the court need expect no leniency from them, but would in all cases, except where there were strongly extenuating circumstances, receive the full penalty of the law.

The case was against Harry G. Larcum, a chauffeur, who was arrested at 141st street and Seventh avenue on July 13 after a chase of eighteen blocks. Larcum stated in court that he was employed by a woolen merchant who lives in Tarrytown. The policeman said on the stand that the machine was going at a rate of fully 20 miles an hour, although he had put the rate in the complaint as 15 miles. He also said that at the time he arrested Larcum the latter's employer was in the machine and declared it a "shame" to stop him, as he was in a hurry to get his dinner.

Justice Holbrook, in pronouncing sentence on the chauffeur, said:

"The reckless operation of automobiles in this city is getting to be a serious matter. Chauffeurs of automobiles seem to think that horsemen, pedestrians and others have no rights that they are bound to respect. This court is determined to put a stop to this manner of violating the law in this city, if possible. We can, under the statute, for a first offense, impose a fine of not exceeding $50. It seems to us proper that it should be generally known that we have made up our minds to impose a maximum fine in these cases, except under very extenuating circumstances.

"For a second offense this court has power to impose a fine of not exceeding $50, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. The fine in this case is $50, or in default of payment twenty days in the city prison."

Larcum paid the fine.



We reprint in full elsewhere in this issue the charge of Judge William J. Gaynor, of Brooklyn, N. Y., to a jury sitting in an automobile damage caseperhaps the best interpretation of the rights of the automobile on the common road that has so far emanated from the bench. He lays down the general principles of the common law of the road with a fairness and precision to which no intelligent automobilist or horseman can take exception, maintaining the absolute equality of rights for both classes of vehicle. But notwithstanding the admirable charge of the bench, the jury brought in a nominal verdict for the plaintiff, the question in the mind of the jury, as is usual in damage suits of this kind, evidently turning on the dearth of evidence to support the defendant's claim of no negligence as against the admitted fact that the plaintiff had suffered bodily injury due to the defendant's automobile. It is seldom that witnesses can be found who have a clear recollection of a dramatic incident upon the highway, even if they were in close proximity at the time.

The facts on which both parties to the suit were agreed were that they met in a narrow street, that plaintiff's horse showed excessive fright at defendant's approaching automobile, whereupon plaintiff held up his hand signalling defendant to stop, which defendant did. Thereupon the plaintiff alighted from his buggy and grasped his horse by the bridle. Up to this point both are in accord, but. a misunderstanding then occurred, for the defendant testified that plaintiff made a motion to him which he interpreted as a signal to come on, which he did. The plaintiff denied that he had given such a signal, contending on the other hand that he kept motioning back. However this may have been, the defendant did proceed, and the plaintiff's horse became violent and threw him to the ground, injuring his side.

The more prudent course to follow in such a situation would probably be for the driver to lead his horse slowly up to and past the standing automobile, giving the animal an opportunity to gradually overcome his fears. While of course negligence could not be claimed on account of plaintiff's failure to do this, yet a burden of responsibility rests upon the driver of an unruly horse, which is liable at any time to become frightened at objects upon the highway, objects which have as good a right there as himself.

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