Charles Richard (C.R. to friends) Patterson was born into slavery in Virginia about 1833. A story shared verbally for more than a century becomes distorted and so separating fact from fiction becomes almost an impossibility. And so all that we know about Patterson’s early years is that his family escaped and found refuge in the area of Greefield, Ohio aroound the mid 1840s.
In Greenfield, C.R. Patterson apprenticed as a blacksmith for Dines & Simpson, a local carriage maker of regional renown. He was eventually promoted to foreman, a testimony to how well he was respected in the company and in the community.
In 1873, Patterson entered into a partnership with J.P. Lowe, another local carriage maker, and established J. P. Lowe & Company. In 1893 he bought out his partner and reorganized the company as C.R. Patterson, Son & Company.
Before C.R’s death in 1910, his son Frederick began moving the company in a new direction as it was becoming increasingly obvious that the horse drawn carriage was soon to be replaced by the automobile. The company diversified into produucing auto bodies for companies as well as auto repair, including paint and upholstery.
After more than a year of research and development, in September 1915 the company moved one step closer to the modern era. The manufacturing of automobiles was added to their portfolio of services. The closed touring and convertible-top roadster models were, for the most part, assembled vehicles using parts from a variety of manufacturers as well as a few designed in house. None of the cars are known to exist but contemporary reports note that the cars were well built and durable with modern features such as an electric starter.
As production was limited, marketing was generally regional. The one major exception was advertisements placed African American–owned publications, something few automobile companies considered.
But the manufacturer that produced vehicles by hand could not profitably compete with the likes of General Motors and Ford. And an African American owned manufacturer faced additional obstacles including restricted access to financing, markets, and to marketing.
In 1918, the company suspended automobile production and expanded their vehicle-repair services. In 1920 the company was a gain restructured and was reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Company. The company profiited from the regional demand for school bus and specialty truck bodies that could be added to Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Corbit, Moreland, International and other truck chassis. Within a few years they had expanded the catalog options to included hearses, moving van, insulated van bodies, and trailers for semi tractors.
A study conducted in 1929 indicated that almost half of the school busses operating in Ohio used Greenfield bodies. And just as the ravages of the Great Depression began wreaking havoc on the American economy, the company turned its attentions to export. Shortly before the company closed its doors, a few buses were shipped to Haiti far away as Haiti for the first Haitian commercial bus line.
At Jim Hinckley’s America, we tell America’s story. The story of Patterson-Greenfield, the only Afrcan American owned automobile manufacturer, is just one chapter is this inspiring epic that is still being written as America is a work in progress.
History provides us with perspective and balance. The future gives us hope. But history strained and filtered to fit a perspective or agenda is akin to a jigsaw puzzle picture of a desert with clear skies that has had all all the blue pieces removed.