NEWS FLASH – WHITE HOUSE MOTOR POOL CHOOSES STEAM POWERED CARS
Yes, this headline is correct. No, President Obama has not embarked on a radical reformation of the way the federal government does business. At least not yet.
On a serious note this news flash could very well have been the headline in 1909. That was the year President Taft established the White House motor pool with his authorization to purchase a White steam powered automobile for presidential transport.
Taft, however, was not the first president to be associated with White automobiles. That honor goes to Teddy Roosevelt, the first president to drive an automobile, a White, and the first president to use an automobile in an inaugural parade, again a White.
Today, even among automobile aficionados, the White is little more than an historical footnote. What a difference a century makes!
The automotive chapter of White (the company built sewing machines before the advent of the American Civil War) begins in the 1890s with the acquisition of a patent for a flash boiler system by Rollin White. Rapidly following on the heels of this milestone were the contributions of brothers Windsor and Walter who utilized this system and built four automobiles in 1900.
One year later the company had introduced its first steam propelled truck and automobile production had topped 190 units. White was now one of the largest automobile producers in the nation.
Events such as the New York to Buffalo endurance run in 1901, an event where four White automobiles claimed first through fourth place, provided the company with a great deal of publicity and served as the cornerstone for extreme loyalty from owners.
Advancements such as the addition of a condenser to recycle steam exhaust and moving the engine up front under a hood in 1903 ensured the automobiles produced by White were on the cutting edge of automotive technology and styling. It also provided the company with an enviable increase in sales annually.
White had the limelight and center stage as well as international attention in 1905, the year Teddy Roosevelt used a White in his inaugural parade. This was also the year driver Webb Jay drove a special bodied White nicknamed Whistling Billy (this photo) to a new mile record of 73.75 miles per hour.
These two events proved to be a catalyst for a remarkable increase in sales. In 1903, the company produced 502 automobiles, for 1905 the number leaped to 1,015 and in 1906 to 1,534. These numbers were more than twice that of the companies chief rival, Stanley.
The list of enthusiastic White fans and owners included a number of famous personalities. Counted among these were Buffalo Bill Cody, John D. Rockefeller, and Dr. Fenner of Phoenix, Arizona.
Fenner was a celebrity of sorts in Arizona and his exploits and travels behind the wheel of his White were nothing short of extraordinary. Perhaps the most memorable feat accomplished was claiming first place in the first Desert Classic, dubbed the cactus derby, in 1908.
This race from Los Angeles to Phoenix was conceived to promote the need for good roads as well as the viability of gasoline powered automobiles. Fenner winning the event in a steam powered car dampened the spirits of gasoline proponents. Adding insult to injury was the fact Fenner’s car was four years old and had already been driven more than 65,000 miles on some of the roughest country roads in the southwest!
In spite of its success, by 1909 it was becoming obvious to most everyone, including the directors at White, that days for steam powered automobiles were numbered. For the 1910 model year White introduced a new line of gasoline powered automobiles.
The new cars were worthy of the White reputation for reliability and 1,200 units were sold. During the same year White also sold 1,208 steam powered models.
The end of the era dawned in Januaryof 1911 with the production of the last White steam powered car. The company would continue producing automobiles until 1918 and durable trucks for decades.
The steam powered Whites may be a forgotten footnote in automotive history but at the dawn of a new century thay were leading the parade into a brave new world.