Florence Lawrence loved high performance vehicles and in 1912 acquired a Lozier. Photo Historic Vehicle Association
Florence Lawrence was a passionate automobilist as well as a very accomplished mechanic. And she was one of the first superstars of the silver screen. Of course, all of this made her a media sensation, especially since she lived in an era when women were not allowed to vote and the Jaxon produced in Jackson, Michigan was promoted as a car so easy to drive, a child or woman could operate it.
Scheduled for publication on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, the stroy of Florence Lawrence and the contributions of a few pioneering women to the development of the American auto industry in its infancy is the subject of episode two of Car Talk From The Main Street of America. Developed in partnership with producer and engineer Stan Hustad this new weekly audio podcast blends interesting and inspirational automotive history stories with a bit of road trip inspiration.
Rest assured that this new endeavor is not a replacement for the interactive audiopodcast travel program, Coffee With Jim, on Sunday morning. Instead it is an ehancement, if you will, of the Jim Hinckley’s Americanetwork with its diverse array of programs.
Telling people where to go is what I do. That and telling stories. And, of course, I always share the adventure.
In coming months we have an array of fascinating programs and presentations scheduled and planned. This is just a sample of what is coming down the pike.
In the formative years of the auto industry there were motorized bicycles and vehicles with four, six and even eight wheels. They were powered by steam, gasoline, kerosene, electricity, oversized clock springs and even compressed air. They began as a manifestation of eccentricity and scientific curiosity but soon morphed into side show curiosity and promotional gimmick. Then in the blink of an eye the automobile was a multimillion-dollar industry. Names became brands. Streetscapes were transformed with gas stations, garages, electric vehicle charging stations, billboards, and dealerships. Society was transformed. The world of transportation was transformed. Our lexicon was transformed with the addition of words like motel. Generational businesses were decimated. Time honored careers were transformed into historic footnotes.
In 1872 Studebaker based in South Bend, Indiana was billed as the largest manufacturer of wheeled vehicles in the world; wheelbarrows, freight wagons, prams, carriages, surreys, ambulances, buckboards. In 1897 the company built the first of several prototype horseless carriages, and in 1902 their first production models, an electric designed by Thomas Edison, rolled from the factory. The company continued producing horse drawn vehicles until 1920 albeit in ever smaller numbers as the company evolved into one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the United States.
In 1889, Elmer Apperson and his brother Edgar opened the Riverside Machine Works on Main Street in Kokomo, Indiana. As the brothers were talented machinists and blacksmiths, they prospered and development a reputation for quality workmanship. This was the reason that an eccentric Kokomo businessman named Elwood Haynes retained their services to install a Stintz marine gasoline engine in a carriage. That horseless carriage took to the street on the Fourth of July 1894. From these humble beginnings the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company was launched. Even though it is largely unknown today, the company continued producing automobiles until 1926, and pioneered an array of developments.
Clinton Woods lacked the business savvy needed to attract investors or successfully form a corporation. But he was a visionary obsessed with a simple idea; the horseless carriage was the future and the future of horseless carriages was electric vehicles. In 1899 financier Samuel Insull and several board members of Standard Oil purchased Woods designs and patents, and with an astounding $10 million in capital stock launched the Woods Motor Vehicle Company.
The company immediately began producing an electric Hansom Cab that sold well in New York and other cities. In 1900 they began producing a Victoria that was displayed at Chicago’s first auto show. It was here that the manager of the Honolulu Iron Works saw a Woods, placed an order, and imported the first automobile into Hawaii.
The company enjoyed moderate success even though the electric vehicle was being quickly eclipsed by gasoline powered vehicles. But the companies crowning achievement was the Woods Dual Power introduced in the summer of 1916. The car used a Woods designed four-cylinder engine as an auxiliary to the electric motor. At speeds under 15 miles per hour, the gasoline engine idled and the car was driven by the electric motor. Faster speeds were obtained by using the gasoline engine with the electric motor as an auxiliary. The Woods Dual Power was a hybrid!
Alexander Winton established the Winton Bicycle Company in 1891, and five years later took his first experimental horseless carriage for a spin. On March 1, 1897, he organized he Winton Motor Carriage Company, and to promote his new vehicle, proceeded to drive from Cleveland, Ohio to New York City. By 1899, with the production of 100 vehicles, he became the largest manufacturer of horseless carriages in America. That was also the year he turned away a young mechanic as he was turned off by his ego and launched a rivalry that would last for years. That mechanic was Henry Ford.
Milton Reeves Octoauto. Photo authors collection
Winton played a pivotal role in the launching of one of America’s most famous automobile manufacturers. In 1898 car number twelve was sold to James Ward Packard who proved to be a very dissatisfied customer. During the drive from Cleveland to his home in Warren, Ohio, his new machine broke down numerous times and was eventually towed by a team of horses. Packard confronted Winton and made several suggestions for improvements. Winton was heard to say, “Mr. Packard, if you are so smart, why don’t you make a car yourself.” And so, Mr. Packard launched the Packard Automobile Company in 1899.
The establishment of automobile companies in the first years of the 20th century was a tsunami. But the market was very finite. This and a major economic recession in 1907 decimated the industry. An increased demand for vehicles, advancements in production and a growing middle class fueled another gold rush in the industry before WWII. The post war recession and the growing dominance of major manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, and Packard forced many companies to close or merge. And then came the Great Depression, and the industry that was birthed with such promise for the independent thinker was forever transformed. Before the launching of Tesla by Elon Musk, only one man was able to successfully launch an American automobile manufacturing company after 1925 – Walter Chrysler.
It was a highway in name only. In that summer of 1915, Edsel Ford recorded in his travel journal that July 15 was a “good days run.” He had driven from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, a distance of just over 153 miles on the National Old Trails Road.
He had left Williams that morning and arrived at the Brunswick Hotel in Kingman around midnight. Some of his friends that were traveling with him to California had to return to Seligman. They had broken a spring on their Stutz.
With the luxury of hindsight Edsel’s journey was rather astounding. But he was not alone. More than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition in California that year arrived from outside the state, and they drove.
But consider this. Arizona had been a state for only three years. Fourteen years prior pioneering automobile manufacturer Alexander Winton had attempted a coast to coast drive. He made it from San Francisco to the deserts of Nevada on the western slope of the Sierra’s. The utter lack of roads was the reason given for the aborted adventure.
The first transcontinental trip by automobile was completed in 1903. But it took Dr. Horatio Jackson 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes to make this historic drive.
Incredibly just five years later a New York to Paris automobile race was staged. Even more amazing, some of the drivers managed to actually finish the race. This was in spite of obstacles such as being stranded in the Gobi Desert while awaiting the delivery of gasoline by camel, and having to seek a blacksmith in Siberia to make a gear.
I have long been intrigued by the years between 1890 and 1930. Aside from the previous thirty years, that was probably the most dramatic period of transition the world has ever known.
Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.
Buffalo Bill Cody purchased a Michigan, an automobile manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1903. He was a pioneer in the good roads movement. A few years later he was a board member on the National Old Trails Road Association. Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior, was photographed behind the wheel of a Cadillac. A car named for him was being manufactured in Enid, Oklahoma.
By 1919 more people owned an automobile in the United States than had indoor plumbing. Studebaker, a legendary company had been a leading producer of horse drawn vehicles, was still building wagons unto 1920. And yet, in 1913 they were the third largest manufacturer of automobiles in the country. Stagecoaches were operating in Mohave County, Arizona until 1916, one year after Edsel Ford’s adventure.
The word motel didn’t exist in 1918. And ten years later motels, auto courts and similar lodging options were sprouting up along the highways faster than sunflowers in Kansas.
I recently developed a presentation entitled Era of Innovation. With great pleasure I can say that its debut was well received by a very august audience of professions.
So it is time to take it on the road. First, a pay per view on Zoom and Eventbrite. Next, I am offering it to organizers of events. Interested? Drop me a note for more details.
The line between visionary and eccentric is often one that overlaps. Among the many things that make the formative years of the American automobile industry fascinating are manifestations that blur that line.
On the visionary side of that line would be the optional swing away, electrically heated steering wheel available on the 1917 McFarlan. An example of the eccentric side would be the exceedingly odd eight-wheeled Octauto, or six-wheeled Sextoauto, devised by Milton O. Reeves.
Straddling the line would be the automobiles built by Benjamin Briscoe in Jackson, Michigan. The 1914 Briscoe models sported a single Cyclops headlight mounted dead center in the upper radiator shell and featured laminated papier-mâché body panels on wood framing “to ease with repair.” The 1916 models were sold with four cylinder engines and a promotion proclaiming, “Buy the Four. Use it a month. If then you decide you want the Eight, simply pay the difference and a small installation fee.”
Often, what appears as manifestations of eccentricity today was representative of innovative technology during the first decades of the industry. Promoted as, “The Friction Drive Car” was the 1907 Lambert, a vehicle that capitalized on the patented developments of Byron Carter.
Carter’s Cartercar received rave reviews from the automotive press and was the vehicle heralded as the future with promotion billing that proclaimed, “The car of a thousand speeds!” The companies’ slogan was, “No Clutch to Slip, No Gears to Strip.” Lambert and Cartercar were not the only automobiles to utilize the intriguing system devised by Carter. Other manufacturers included Metz, Petrel, Simplicity, and Sears.
For a very brief moment in time, the friction drive system with its paper fiber transmission rims seemed to represent the future of automotive engineering. Exemplifying this would be the purchase of the Cartercar Company by William Durant, the founder of General Motors, in 1909.
Then there are those innovations that simply defy any semblance of reason, even in the context of the times when built. Case in point; the 1913 Duck, a four-passenger touring car with the drivers’ seat being in the rear of the car!
The speed of technological advancement during this period quickly relegated the visionary developments of one year into a manifestation of eccentric oddity the next. In 1911, compressed air starters were among some of the most innovative options available on luxury automobiles. The McFarlan of 1912 offered an in house designed and built unit as standard equipment. This system was operated by a four cylinder Kellogg pump and a pressurized canister that stored air at 200 pounds of pressure.
In 1912, Cadillac advertisement promoted the new models as, “The Car That Has No Crank.” By 1914, the electric starter introduced by Cadillac two years previously had rendered the automotive compressed air starter system an historical artifact.
Often the innovative features of an automobile became its claim to fame in advertisement and promotion. Here too, the transformation of a company’s image from innovative to quirky happened quickly.
The Premier of 1918 was “The Aluminum Six with Magnetic Gear Shift.” Two years later the company that had manufactured automobiles featuring overhead valves, sliding gear transmissions, and shaft drive in 1904, was in its death throes. The troublesome magnetic gearshift proved to be the companies undoing.
The hill climbing prowess of a Cartercar is put to the test.
On occasion, visionary and innovative thinking leapt ahead of the technological capabilities of the time. The first automotive recall in the United States, and the development of leaded gasoline, stemmed from of an engineering equivalent of getting the horse before the cart.
The air-cooled Chevrolet debacle of 1923 began with experimentation by Charles Kettering, the innovative genius behind the development of the electric starter that appeared on the 1912 Cadillac. It culminated with a rush to production fueled by a power struggle for control of General Motors.
Perhaps the most intriguing technological innovations from the formative years of the industry are those that were literally decades ahead of practical feasibility. The Woods Dual Power of 1916 was a hybrid featuring many of the engineering principles found on the Prius.
The first automotive endeavors of Studebaker were an electric powered vehicle designed by Thomas Edison. The initial offering by Knox in 1902-featured finned cylinder jugs that facilitated air-cooling, which were uncannily similar to those that appeared on the Volkswagen Type 1.
To be a visionary or eccentric requires independent thinking. From that perspective, during the formative years of the American automobile industry independent thinking reigned supreme.