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Transportation By Motorcar

By the end of 1899, transportation by motorcar struggled in its infancy, with the great quantity of vehicle sales still a decade away. It was only a few months since Henry Ford had left his post as chief engineer for the Edison Electric Plant in Detroit and with a group of investors formed his first automobile manufacturing company. Still in its early experimentation stages, the economical motorcar for the masses was only a dream. The thirty other American automobile manufacturers already in production turned out only an estimated 2,500 motor vehicles. Sold to a restricted audience, these expensive automobiles limited horseless transportation to a small segment of society.

Regarded as a novelty reserved for those rich enough to purchase one, the automobile was principally owned by doctors, lawyers and the upper elite of society. The horse and buggy provided personal locomotion for a large majority of the general public, and the newfangled invention known as the horseless carriage was looked upon as a status symbol for those with money to waste. Many hoped this "hobby" of the well-to-do would die a slow death, like many fads before it. Most could not conceive that this mechanical contrivance would ever replace the four-footed equine, still much adored for transportation.

Richard Dudgeon was born in Scotland in 1819 and emigrated to the United States in his youth. He took a job at the Allaire Iron Works in New York City and became a skilled machinist. He established his own machine shop in 1849. Dudgeon became wealthy and widely known because of a portable hydraulic jack that he patented in 1851 and manufactured for use in the shipbuilding and railroad industries. This jack could be operated with water, whale oil, or even whiskey. It was more useful than screw jacks, then the prevalent lifting devices. Dudgeon's mechanical ability and his love of animals led him to develop a steam wagon so that mechanical power might replace horse power "to end the fearful horse murder and numerous other ills inseparable from their use." He built a steam carriage between 1853 and 1857, but it was destroyed in the 1858 fire that consumed the Crystal Palace, an industrial exposition building in New York City.

Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea were early U.S. automobile makers. Their one-cylinder gasoline automobile was built in Springfield, Mass. The Duryea Motor Wagon Company constructed 13 identical automobiles in 1896, making them the first American company that moved from making one car to making multiple copies for sale. Although they did not build the first American automobile, the Duryeas-like a number of other early automobile pioneers-claimed they built the first American car.

Stephen Marius Balzer (1864?-1940) was a Hungarian immigrant who arrived in New York in the 1870s. Balzer apprenticed at Tiffany's as a watchmaker and then went to work at a machine shop in 1884. An active inventor, with a number of patents to his credit, Balzer later set up his own machine shop. He built his first car in 1894. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Balzer tried to enter into the car business and set up the Balzer Motor Company to exploit his automobile related inventions. This endeavor was not very successful, and Balzer seems to have severed his ties with the company bearing his name by 1902. After ceasing to manufacture automobiles, Balzer continued to work as a mechanical engineer. He seems to have moved to Andover, N.J., at some point in the 1910s and set up the Balzer Engineering Company there. Balzer lived in Andover at the time of his death in 1940.

The Haynes Automobile Company was one of many small companies that built cars in the United States in the first decades of the 20th century. The company was started after Elwood Haynes-supervisor of the Indiana Natural Gas & Oil Company in Kokomo, Ind.-came up with the plan to build a gasoline engined vehicle. Haynes worked with the Elmer and Edgar Apperson who owned the Riverside Machine Shop to build a car in 1894. That vehicle took its first test run on July 4, 1894. The three men went into business together, forming the Haynes-Apperson Company in 1896. (It was officially incorporated in 1898.) Both Appersons had left the Haynes-Apperson Company by 1902, and they began making automobiles under their own name, setting up the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company in Kokomo. In 1905, the company formerly known as the Haynes-Apperson Company became the Haynes Automobile Company to reflect the changed ownership. Haynes continued to make cars until the 1920s, when bad times hit. In 1924, the company was declared bankrupt and went out of business in 1925.

Alexander Winton was a pioneer in the automobile manufacturing world. Winton was an immigrant from Scotland. He worked as an engineer on a steamship, in an iron works, and he started a bicycle repair shop before he began making bicycles in the 1890s. Many bicycle makers also became early automobile makers, and the Winton Company followed that path, beginning to make cars in the late 19th century. The Winton Motor Carriage Company was incorporated in 1897 and sold its first car in 1898. The Cleveland-based company was relatively successful in the first decades of the 20th century, but, unable to compete with the giants such as Ford, the Winton Company stopped making automobiles in 1924. A branch of the company continued to make diesel engines into the late 1920s; it was then was bought by General Motors.

The Quintessentially American Automobile

The road to the quintessentially American automobile is paved with death, violence, and gigantic lizards.

65 million B.C.
The last remaining dinosaurs finally croak, fulfilling their biological imperative by decomposing enough to fuel our modern transportation with their delightfully carbon-laden corpses.

4000 B.C.
Asian nomads domesticate horses. Ill-fated attempts to ride 300 at once result in tragedy.

3500 B.C.
Inventive peons slap planks onto round pieces of wood and invent the first wheeled vehicle. Hauling hay, rocks, and the lifeless bodies of loincloth-clad tribesmen was never so easy!

1180 B.C.
In The Iliad, Achilles has a chariot race to commemorate the death of his friend Patroclus during the Trojan War. On the bright side, People votes Achilles the Sexiest Man Alive—again!

1496 A.D.
Columbus brings rubber to Europe after visiting the New World. Its usefulness on wheels and schlongs is soon discovered when Spaniards realize it tastes like shit in paella.

America declares its independence from the British and their feeble, unreliable clown cars.

Gottlieb Daimler creates a motor that becomes the basis for the modern gas-fueled internal-combustion engine. It’s the last time Germany does something useful until Falco emerges.

Standard Oil of New Jersey, DuPont, and GM team up to make leaded gas, and deny its toxicity for years in the interest of smoother-running engines. Well done, gentlemen.

In Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean leaps from a car to avoid an untimely death. Irony rules!

John F. Kennedy is shot while riding in a convertible Lincoln Continental. A grieving nation demands the sniperproof safety of sturdy coupes that can peel out at a moment’s notice.

Pontiac creates the first muscle car by offering a $295 GTO performance option on the midsize Tempest. Non-bleeding genitals, and now this? It’s so sweet to be a man.

The minivan is introduced. The sound of testicles ascending rings out through suburbs nationwide.

All hail the return of the pony car! For the first time in decades, power-hungry buyers can choose between a GTO, Mustang, or Charger. Let’s hope the return of free love is next.

Herbert H. Franklin formed the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Co. in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1893. Originally in the machine-die business, the company entered the car business in 1902. John Wilkinson of Syracuse designed the Franklin motor car. The company sold about 150,000 cars over the course of its more than 30 years in existence.

Several companies, notably White, Stanley, and Locomobile (a Stanley spinoff), built steam-powered automobiles in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In spite of their drawbacks-they were difficult to start and control and they could explode-sales of steam cars were steady, though modest. At its peak, the White Company built 1,534 automobiles in a single year (1906) and ranked seventh among all automobile manufacturers in terms of volume. By the 1910s, internal combustion had become the clear choice of the great majority of motorists. White and Locomobile began building internal-combustion cars, but the Stanley brothers kept tinkering with their steam cars, and their company turned out a small number of hand-crafted cars each year until the mid-1920s. At mid-century, American society developed an almost theatrical consciousness of the automobile's formative years, and the Stanley steamer once again took center stage. Celebrated in song, film, and nostalgia, Stanley steam cars became quaint symbols of a bygone era and the horseless buggy's indirect progression from experiment to manufactured product to everyday necessity. Today collectors, historians, and museums preserve, document, and celebrate the achievements and significance of the Stanley brothers and their cars.

In the early 1900s, the automobile became more than a rich person's toy. Demand was strong among farmers, workers, and the middle class. Used cars provided a less expensive alternative to new ones, but problems with quality, reliability, and parts availability limited their appeal. Several car manufacturers introduced new models that were affordable, dependable and designed for everyday use on country roads or city streets. Because of its wooden chassis and wooden axles, the Brush automobile (1907-13) was exceptionally lightweight and resilient. The small, one-cylinder Brush appealed to many motorists because of its simplicity, relatively low price, and chassis features that were well suited to rural roads. Wider axles were available for use in the South, where a 60-inch tread fit wagon ruts on country roads. Brush cars were fairly popular, but the company's financial difficulties and competition from better automobiles brought an end to the venture in 1913.

Alanson Brush is chiefly remembered as the designer and manufacturer of the Brush runabout. However, his importance to the early development of the automobile industry rests on his outstanding mechanical work on Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Oakland, Buick, and Marmon cars. He was a highly respected technical innovator and problem solver, although he lacked any formal mechanical training. Brush returned from service in the Spanish-American War in 1899 and began work with the Leland and Falconer Manufacturing Company, perhaps Detroit's best known machine shop. He came to the attention of Henry Leland when he solved critical problems related to engines and transmissions for early Oldsmobiles. After that, his advice was sought by business leaders who had fired Henry Ford and were creating what became General Motors Corporation. The initial product of this association was the very successful Cadillac. Brush was part of the organization of the Cadillac Motor Car Company in 1905 and became its chief engineer, a role that he also played at Buick and Oakland.

The worm-gear differential used in the Stutz automobile was not widely adopted by car manufacturers, but the lengthening and lowering of sedans continued for decades and had a great impact on styling, manufacturing, and sales. Safety glass became common in the late 1920s and 1930s, but wire glass was replaced by two-layer glass with consolidating material between the layers.

In the 1920s, General Motors introduced a marketing strategy that featured many makes and models with graduated prices and levels of quality. This strategy enticed motorists to "step up" to the next level of price and luxury when their means allowed. Oakland was placed between Oldsmobile and Buick in price, quality, and body details. GM discontinued the Oakland line in 1931, during the Depression, because of declining sales and the popularity of other GM cars, including one of Oakland's own products, the Pontiac.

In the early years of the Depression, the market for luxury automobiles contracted. By the early 1930s, Packard's annual production was only a fraction of its output at the height of the expansive, extravagant 1920s. But the company held onto a small, elite market, including the rich and famous as well as less affluent motorists who appreciated Packard's engineering advances and refinements. In 1932 Packard tried to broaden its market by introducing a moderately priced Light Eight in addition to the Standard Eight (shown here). This attempt to enter the mid-priced automobile market was unsuccessful because of high production costs. A loyal following of repeat customers enabled the company to survive the Depression and compete successfully with rivals Cadillac and Lincoln. Production by several other competitors in the luxury class-Cord, Duesenberg, Franklin, Marmon, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow-ceased during the 1930s because of diminishing sales and financial difficulties.

Major auto manufacturers dismissed plastic bodies following an unsuccessful Ford experiment in the early 1940s, but William Tritt demonstrated that a body made of polyester resin and glass strands was practical, economical to produce, and superior to steel in many ways. Tritt introduced the Glasspar in 1951 and made about 300 sports car bodies by hand over a period of several years. Despite its advantages, the plastic car seemed destined to remain a low-volume vehicle because of slow production and limited capital investment; only one Glasspar body was made per day. But in 1953, General Motors decided to make Corvette bodies of fiberglass and consulted with Tritt about production methods. By the 1960s, GM was making more than 20,000 fiberglass-body Corvettes per year by using dies and presses instead of making bodies in molds.

Smithsonian Automobile Collection. Smithsonian .

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