He never complained and refused to see himself as disabled. He perfected the electric razor, developed a balancing mechanism for steam turbines, and transformed the Perfect Circle corporation into the largest manufacturer of piston rings in the world. Perhaps his most transformative contribution was the invention of cruise control. His was a life well lived. But the inspiration comes from knowing that Ralph Teetor was blind. He had been injured as a child, and as a result one year later he lost his sight.
Charles Richard Patterson created a profitable but small business empire in Greenfield, Ohio. His success becomes all the more amazing when one considers that he was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1833. Historians are unsure how he came to live in Greenfield, a hotbed of abolitionist activity before the Civil War. There is a possibility that his freedom had been purchased, but a number of African Americans in town had escaped slavery.
He apprenticed in a blacksmith shop that also was engaged in carriage and wagon making. In 1873, he formed a business partnership J.P. Lowe, another carriage maker in town, J.P. Lowe. In 1893 he bought out his partner and purchased the shop where he had begun his career, and formed C.R. Patterson & Sons. By 1900 his carriage and wagon manufacturing and repair company was employing an integrated workforce of nearly fifty men. His sales catalog listed twenty-five models including doctor buggies, freight wagons, surreys, and closed carriages.
With Patterson’s death in 1910, his son Frederick took the helm of the company. He was college-educated and was the first African American athlete to play football at Ohio State University. He was also the vice president of the National Negro Business League that had been founded by Booker T. Washington. He also charted a new course for the company with diversification that included repair and services for automobiles. The first ad for auto repair services appeared in the local paper in 1913. The repainting of bodies and the reupholstering of interiors was the initial service offered. Then mechanics were hired and the company became a full service auto repair facility.
Resultant of the endeavors success, in 1915 C.R. Patterson & Sons began manufacturing automobiles. Advertisement announced the availability of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile at a factory sales price of $685. “Our car is made with three distinct purposes in mind. First — It is not intended for a large car. It is designed to take the place originally held by the family surrey. It is a 5-passenger vehicle, ample and luxurious. Second — It is intended to meet the requirements of that class of users, who, though perfectly able to spend twice the amount, yet feel that a machine should not engross a disproportionate share of expenditure, and especially it should not do so to the exclusion of proper provisions for home and home comfort, and the travel of varied other pleasurable and beneficial entertainment. It is a sensibly priced car. Third — It is intended to carry with it (and it does so to perfection) every conceivable convenience and every luxury known to car manufacture. There is absolutely nothing shoddy about it. Nothing skimp and stingy.”
The company continued producing and manufacturing horse drawn vehicles, but the focus was increasingly shifted toward the manufacture of automobiles even though sales were less than anemic. Orders began to come in, and C.R. Patterson & Sons officially entered the ranks of American auto manufacturers. Over the years the company diversified offerings to include coupes and sedans, and in 1918, a stylish “Red Devil” speedster. The vehicles were powered by a 30-horsepower four cylinder engine supplied by Continental in Muskegon, Michigan. They also featured a full floating rear axle, cantilever springs, electric starting and lighting, and a split windshield that opened for ventilation. Information is scant but apparently owners were very satisfied with the quality and durability of the cars.
Small independent manufacturers, even those that offered a quality product, were challenged to compete with larger companies that continued to develop improved means of mass production. The problems were magnified with severe post WWI economic recession. As the profit margin on each Patterson-Greenfield automobile was low, the company was poorly positioned to weather the storm. In late 1919 the C.R. Patterson & Sons company halted auto production. They reorganized to focus entirely on the repair of vehicles. Then in the early 1920s, the company diversified again and began building truck and bus bodies to be fitted on chassis made by other manufacturers. Then in 1930, in the dawning of the Great Depression, sales evaporated. Still, the company survived until 1939.
The Patterson family, a life well. The Patterson family, a story of inspiration.