History of Early American Automobiles

Chapter 1


Home     Forward     Contents

1 2   3  3-A 4 5   7 8 9 10 11 12 13  14   15 16 
17 18  19 20    21 22 23   24 25  26 27  28 29   30  31  32 33

Addendum 1    Addendum 2   Addendum 3

As one reads the history, he will remember Yogi Berra's famous words "Its deja-vu all over again". What is taking place today has happened many times to many companies and the industry survived them all. Beverly Rae Kimes estimates in her book, Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels, that there were 2800 companies that once existed. By 1930, less than fifty were in operation. Today, there are three major corporations, one owned by a foreign company, Fiat: one by the US government, GMC; and one that was said in 1904 that it would fail was Ford Motor Company.

One will find the history of many well known companies, some lesser known, and some that are unknown in other publications. 

Each and every one of the companies that once existed was welcomed in the city that it was located. They built huge factories that provided taxes for the city coffers and they hired scores of workers who could provide a living for their families. The workers worked from ten to eighteen hours a day without any benefits and could be layed off for no reason. When a company suddenly closed down, the whole community suffered.

Today's production numbers are a far cry from the beginning when it took J. Frank Duryea two years of experimenting before his first automobile was ready to be successfully driven in 1893. His next model, the 1894 Duryea, was the only one made until 1896, when thirteen were ordered for the entire year. In 1895, Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company erected a huge factory and hired 85 employes to make their model. In 1900, they advertised that they were now capable of making two a week. At the same time, Oldsmobile Motor Works stated that the were able to produce two to three a week. Every part was made to fit another part until the whole was completed. When a customer received his car, there would be a tool kit and instructions to instruct him how to take care of his engine. He had to overhaul it himself.

In 1903, Oldsmobile Motor Works constructed an assembly line for production of their automobiles.It was similar to the one that was being in used by the carriage industry in Amesbury, MA, since 1853. The running gear would be placed on a cart and wheeled by a comparment that made the same part for the car. At the end of the line, all parts would now be the chassis that only needed the body. By doing this, they could now make six hundred a year and was the largest makers in the world. It did not take long for the other manufacturers to use the producion line method. Henry Ford mechanized the production line, in 1913, to make over a hundre thousand a year.

In 1915, Studebaker shocked the industry by declaring that they were going to an eight-hour work day and all of their empoyees would be fully covered with a life insuranc policy.

It has been said and repeated many times that man can do anything if he is determined to do so. The automobile industry proved this.

Los Angeles Automobile Club, organized in 1898, is reputed to be the oldest in the country and the American Automobile Club that was organized in 1899 used the Los Angeles club's charter to form theirs.

 wpeDD.jpg (16391 bytes)

Early post card depicting the Southern Horseless Carriage

One of the earliest  Horseless Carriages that is still in  existense.

wpe5A0.jpg (34136 bytes)

1868 Hills Fleetwood Car 
Made by James Hill of Fleetwood, PA as a steam car, but was converted to gasoline some years later.  

Because this industry started with a motorized carriage that replaced the horse, the nomenclature remained the same and was used until around 1905. For instance, one would reshod the wheel because the tires were glued to the wheel. Car tops were called umbrellas, and the hoods were bonnets. The early cars used a stirrup as a foot step to get into the seat and the fenders were mud guards.

The owner of a car was an Automobilist. It took several years before states began to issue drivers license and if an owner wanted to visit another state, he had to get a license from that state to do so. There was no age limit and childern as young as nine got them.

amer869.jpg (28820 bytes)
The year is 1901

Cars were never parked in a garage with parking places. They were housed in a car barn with individual stalls. Rich men had their carriage houses, but the lesser wealthy would have to park their cars on the street that put them in great danger for stealth. Below is a photo that was cut from the 1901 issue of the Automobile Topics Magazine. It is most likely a 1900 St. Louis model.

amer870.jpg (21126 bytes)

When one looks at a picture of an early automobile, most likely he will see two gentlemen sitting in the front seat. One of them was the owner, and the other would be his chauffuer. The chauffuer would not only be the driver, but he was also the mechanic and handyman. They were well trained. If his employer wanted to buy a car, the chauffeur would be taken along to do all of the inspections of the vehicles that were for sale and he would recommend which one to buy. Later, there were schools for them and they also became unionized. Large storage houses, that were being built, would have parking places, gasoline, electric hookups, automotive accessories and the proper clothing for ladies and gentlemen, and several chauffeurs for hire.

The styles of the automobiles were the same as the carriages.

A runabout had one seat that held two people.

wpe14B.jpg (19596 bytes)

1897 Rambler Runabout with Thomas Jeffery

The Stanhope was heavier than a runabout and had a top

autos4236.jpg (25260 bytes)

1899 American Stanhope
The car's name was the "American".

The phaeton had one seat with an Europesn stye body. It went out of style in 1913.

autos4219.jpg (18613 bytes)

1898 Riker Electric Phaeton

Dos-a-Dos had two seats back to back

wpe5CD.jpg (13100 bytes)

1895 George Lewis Dos-a-Dos

One had to climb into the back in a trap and was traped in the rear seat.

wpe5CC.jpg (23374 bytes)

1895 Hartley Motor Trap


A larger version of the trap with a dos-a-dos seat in the rear

wpe5C7.jpg (17242 bytes)

1895 De La Vergne Motor Drag

Enclosed passenger compartment with the driver either on a front or rear seat

wpe26D.jpg (24198 bytes)

1899 General Electric Brougham

A surrey held at least six people and could be entered from the side

wpe5C4.jpg (19222 bytes)

1899 Eureka Gasoline Surrey

A tonneau is a back seat that could be attached or made permanent. The first ones had a fold down door for rear entrance. Later they were made with a side entrance either by door or open. Around 1904, when tops were being made for these cars and people started "touring" or traveling, they were known as "touring cars" and that name lasted until around 1920's . In July of 1902, the manufacturers shut down production for one month to start making the following year models to have them ready for the winter shows. By doing this, dealerships could order their full year supply. It is a custom that is still being done today.

wpe5CE.jpg (13627 bytes)

1902 Robinson Rear Entrance Tonneau

autos640.jpg (66334 bytes)

    1903 Pullman Six Wheel Touring

There were only twelve American examples on display at the at the first American automobile show that was held in New  York City in 1898

autos4103.jpg (36219 bytes)

1898 J.W. Piper and G.M. Tinker Steam Car
Waltham, Ma

The others were all foreign made. These American cars drew the most attention because they were new to the spectators. Each exibitor had his chassis and his completed car. He would also have catalogues with different styles of bodies.

amer341.jpg (21824 bytes)

Winton Automobile and Chassis at the 1903 New York Automobile Show

wpe57E.jpg (44924 bytes)

1900 Advertisement for running gears

wpe57F.jpg (47410 bytes)

1899 Advertisement that shows the chassis. His automobiles were assembled at the ST. Louis Motor Carriage Co.

If one wanted a car by June, he had to order it by January for most of these companies could only complete two a week. He had to pay cash in advance for every step of the trade from parts to bodies was cash in advance. Credit did not come into use for he most part until around 1917. Oldsmobile had a production line in 1903 that could make seven hundred cars a year that was the most in the industry. To make three hundred took some doing. When I worked on the Oldsmobile assembly line in Lansing MI. in 1954, fifty cars an hour was the standard amount.

With every car sold was a tool box that had the necessary to tools with instructions on how to dismantle and clean each part of the engine. It was recommended to do so after a certain amount of mileage depending on the make of the car, usually around seven hundred miles.

When a tire wore out or was damaged, it was recommended that an expert do it, because it was glued to the rim and it took some doing to get it off. The new tire had to be cut to size for they were not always made to fit. In the early automotive magazines, there would be letters to the editor wanting to know how to reshod the rim.

advert50.jpg (41908 bytes)

1900 Advertisement, Goodyear's first year in business

wpe580.jpg (48345 bytes)

1900 Advertisement

Car bodies was a separate part of the industry and was treated as such. The manufacture would order the styles he needed from the body makers either in the white or fully decorated. In th white was one without any paint. This way the customer could have the manufacturer decorate it in the colors that he desired. Currier, Cameron, and Co., Amesbury, was the first one to manufacture bodies. The Duryea Brothers ordered thirteen in 1896. By 1929, there were thirty body builders that had made bodies in Amesbury. Clark Carriage Company, Lansing, MI made the body for the 1896 Oldsmobile.

Body builders could only complete a very limited number a week. From the start to the finished decoration, it was at least two weeks. The twenty-six coats of paint took two weeks to dry. To hasten the process, manufacturers would order them in the white and have their own paint department do it. The elders of Amesbury can remember train loads of these white bodies leaving the town each night. They were called the "Ghost Trains".

As a carry over from carriage building trade in Amesbury from 1853, each body was buiilt on an assembly line basis. Carriage builders had departments that had several skilled employees that were trained to make a part. A cart would start at one end of the factory with a frame and as it passed each department, a part would be added. By the time it got to the end of the line, the carriage was complete. In 1903., Oldsmobile used this same method.

When other carriage companies saw  how successful automobile body building was adding addional revenue, they gave serious thought and finally started making them. One of the most prominent was Fisher Carriage Co , Norwalk, OH. In 1900, one of the six brothers moved to Detroit, MI and started making car bodies.

There were two things that were standard to the car, the chassis and the body without any accessories. Lamps, an alarm apparatus that was usually a gong or bell, or any other item that was desired had to be purchased separately and could add up to a sizeable amount. There were always an accessory section at the shows.

wpe583.jpg (23593 bytes) wpe583.jpg (22508 bytes)


Atwood Lamp Company was the oldest cariage and automobile lamp company in the country starting in 1871. Gray and Davis was the largest maker of lamps in the world and began making them in 1896. In the 1907 New York Automobile Show, seventy-six of the models shown had Gray and Davis Lamps. Both of these advertisemts are for their 1903 models

As with any major industry, it does not take very long for sattelite industries to spring up. By 1899, huge automobile parts stores were advertising their wares. Charles Miller, NYC, and Dykes of St. Louis, MO were two of the largest. The Dodge Brothers of Detoit, MI, who were bicycle parts makers, started making car parts in 1900. This made it easy for almost any one who had any mechanical experience to build a car.

Beverly Rae Kimes in her 2006 book, Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoudrels, estimated that there were 1700 gasoline, 500 electrics, and 300 steam automobile manufacturers.

Parts could be bought by contacting the manufacturers directly. Large automobile companies were started by this method. They would build what was called an assembled car. They would order all needed parts from bolts to complete bodies from different suppliers and assembled them in their plants. As we go along in the automobile history, it will be explained how this method was very damaging to these companies. When written about in the automobile magazines, they would be noted as an assembled automobile.

wpe584.jpg (29023 bytes) wpe585.jpg (25200 bytes)

Dyke started his business in St. Louis, MO, in 1899 and had the first plan in the country where one could buy by a car in fourteen shipments. Each shipment was $27.00 with tools and instructions on putting it together. One could take all the time that he needed beteween each shipment because each one was paid in advance. The parts and cars were made by the St. Louis Motor Carriage, Co


autos2037.jpg (15994 bytes)

1902 Dyke Runabout

wpe587.jpg (19068 bytes)

1908 Sears High Wheel Motor Buggy

Sears , Roebuck, & Co. had a smiliar plan as Dyke that was started in 1905 and lasted to 1913. One major difference was, a money back guarantee was offered.

"High Wheel Buggies" were used from the early stages of the industry, but around 1905, they were made mostly for the midwestern market where the roads were still not paved, especially in the countryside. They remained popular until around 1916.

By 1902, manufacturing of automobiles, accessories, and parts was taking place from coast to coast. There was no doubt that the car had replaced the horse.

wpe699.jpg (52046 bytes)

The First Advertised Gasoline Brand was in 1902
Gasoline was sold in cans.

Huge garages with storage spaces that could hold 300 automobiles, sales rooms for cars and accessories, cothing department for the proper clothing for auHtomobiling, and with several trained men that were available for hire were being built in all sections of the country. By 1905, roads had improved so much that they were connecting all of the small cities from coast to coast. Some were tolerable and some were in excellent condition. With these roads, large hotels and small inns were advertising for automobile tourists. Their special name was "Automobilist".

wpe69D.jpg (49713 bytes)

1902 Advertisement

Of course, no gentleman was going to drive an automobile without the proper clothing.

wpe59F.jpg (19550 bytes)

It is still in business today and so is its water


wpe59B.jpg (15419 bytes)



wpe59C.jpg (14721 bytes) wpe59D.jpg (7525 bytes)



wpe59E.jpg (20014 bytes) amer115.jpg (18374 bytes)

amer122.jpg (32589 bytes)

All of these advertisements were taken from the 1905 edition of the Redbook Magazine.

This country had become vibrant and busting out the seams and all because a few men had a vision and withstood ridicule and even bankruptcy to make it happen.

Home     Forward       Contents

1 2   3  3-A 4 5   7 8 9 10 11 12 13  14   15 16 
17 18  19 20    21 22 23   24 25  26 27  28 29   30  31  32 33

Addendum 1    Addendum 2   Addendum 3