COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF GREENFIELD, OHIO: WWW.GREENFIELDHISTORICALSOCIETY.ORG
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.
Road conditions in the United States during the first decades of the 20th century were less than optimal for use by automobiles. As late as the summer of 1915, Edsel Ford noted in his travel journal that the drive from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, a distance of less than 150 miles required a long, hard drive. “Thursday July 15, Found Cadillac and Stutz crew at Harvey House Hotel at Williams waiting for us. All got supplies at garage. Talked to Ford Agent. Got going about eleven. Had lunch as Ash Forks. Bought some gas and oranges at Seligman. Arrived at Brunswick Hotel, Kingman at midnight. Very rough and dusty roads.”
As a result many automobile manufacturers touted the reliability and off road capabilities of their vehicles rather than promoting creature comforts. The Westcott was “The Car With A Longer Life.” The Allen was “The King of the Hill Climbers.” For the Jackson “No Hill To Steep, No Sand To Deep.”
I kicked off my career as a journalist and author with stories that chronicled the dawning of the American auto industry. In time I found opportunity to blend my passion for Route 66 and adventures on the back roads with the interest in automotive history. The result to date has been nineteen books on subjects as diverse as electrical system restoration on early 1950’s Chevy trucks and ghost towns of Route 66, and several hundred feature articles about equally obscure but interesting historic tidbits. Did you know that the inventor of cruise control was blind?
On display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop in Spring Arbor, Michigan is the oldest existent vehicle manufactured by the Jackson Automobile Company of Jackson, Michigan
There are two pet projects that have simmered on the back burner for many, many years. One is a guide to U.S. 6, an intriguing and fascinating highway with a long and colorful history. It is lined with a stunning array of attractions, historic sites, and scenic wonders. The second idea has been on the burner even longer, since at least 1975. This project centers on Jackson, Michigan, specifically its rich and diverse industrial heritage between 1885 and 1940, and the far reaching connections that contributed so much to the development of the American auto industry.
The recent trip to Jackson rekindled the idea. A number of doors opened, and the one that I thought held the most promise closed. I had hoped that the Hackett Auto Museum project would be the platform for the envisioned book. The blatantly unprofessional management that was manifest when I made my presentation at the former Hackett manufacturing facility dashed that hope. If I had any doubts about my decision to discontinue association, I have recently learned that the roof has yet to be repaired and that their website is down. Even more tragic is the fact that the poorly managed endeavor will result in the loss of this important historic structure.
The headquarters for the former Jackson Automobile Company
Jackson, as with many industrial towns in the Midwest, has lost many of its historic structures in recent years. Still, there are a surprising array of buildings associated with the city’s rich industrial heritage. One of the most outstanding has to be the headquarters and many of the factory buildings from the former Jackson Automobile Company, a manufacturer that operated from 1903 to 1923. There are also some serious collectors and historians that are preserving Jackson’s manufacturing history. One of these is Lloyd Ganton who has collected eighteen examples from the twenty-four manufacturers that were once hardhearted in Jackson. He also has expansive collection of other products manufactured in Jackson including Spartan radios, and a great deal of original documentation including sales catalogs.
His private museum in Spring Arbor, Michigan, Ye Ole Carriage Shop is a sight to behold. Added inspiration for dusting off the long dreamed of project, and moving it to the front of the line was the meeting of a most fascinating archivist. That however, is a story for another day. To get you as fired up as I am, let me leave you with this video tour from Ganton’s stunning museum.
There is an old adage that the two certainties in life are
death and taxes. There are, however, two more adages that you can bank on. One, times change, whether we like it or not. Two, it is up to you to create the survival guide for the modern era and to keep it updated. In short, adapt and learn to adapt or face the consequences. You can bet money that the best blacksmith in town had fallen on hard times by 1915 if he hadn’t added automobile repair to the services offered.
By 1918 the Fred Harvey had adapted to changing times by adding touring coaches as a means to ensure hotel properties remained profitable. Courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts.
The Fred Harvey Company pioneered development of hotel and restaurant chains. They didn’t, however, rest on their laurels after dominating the railroad hotel business in the southwest. They developed tours, added buses, and began marketing to tourists traveling by automobile.
As an author I have, with a degree of success, made the transition from typewriter and carbon paper to word processor. Marketing, a crucial skill for the writer that is going to transition from hobbyist, is another matter. There are indications that I have been somewhat successful in regards to shameless self promotion. As an example, yesterday I learned that Route 66: America’s Longest Small Townis going into a second printing even though the book was released this past April.
Who first took to the roads in a horseless vehicle will most likely always
be a bit of a mystery. Likewise with exactly who first pinned the term automobile to the horseless carriage. Even the year is an unknown but by the early 19th century a few daring, or crazy, visionaries and inventors were terrorizing their neighborhoods with steam powered carriages. However, it would be the mid 1880’s before the concept of a road vehicle driven by any means other than the horse was given serious consideration.
An argument could be made that the American automobile industry was born in 1877. That was the year George B. Selden obtained patents for a horseless carriage with internal combustion engine. Interestingly enough, he did not actually build an automobile, or even a functioning prototype, until 1905 when a lawsuit necessitated that he do so.
Front Street, latter Andy Devine Avenue in Kingman, Arizona. In 1915, Edsel Ford stayed at this hotel during his odyssey along the National Old Trails Highway. Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts.