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Early Automobiles


April 3, 2015 by Pamela Nowak

car1The earliest automobiles were steam carriages. Visionaries began talking about them as early as 1786. Numerous experiments were made over the next years including efforts in 1790 by Nathan Read (Warren, Massachusetts) and Dr. Apollos Kinsey (Hartford, Connecticut); and Oliver Evans in 1805 (Philadelphia). None of these efforts were considered successful due to lack of documentation or limited range of test drives. In 1800, Richard Trevithick (Cornwall, England) engineered a steam carriage that had two successful test drives in 1801, driving up Beacon Hill and over a quarter mile on a flat route. He parked the vehicle under a lean-to at a local inn and went inside to celebrate with “roast goose and proper drinks.” The carriage caught fire, burning down the shed, and was completely destroyed.

Improvements in steam carriages continued during the 1800s with many well-known inventors making improvements. The brothers F.E. and F.O. Stanley are the best known. Originally from Massachusetts, these twins started in violin mcar2anufacturing but soon followed their hobby, steam car building, in 1896. They began with a boiler that weighed 150 pounds more than the entire car. By 1898, they were showing a lighter version at the Boston Automobile Show, proposing to mass produce the steamer for sale to the public. Their “Locomobile” was advertised as able to climb hills and was said to me noiseless on an even gradient. The car didn’t live up to the publicity and the design was abandoned. The Stanleys, however, were not done.

The Stanley White Stanhope came out in 1901. In 1905, Stanley engine capacity was increased and the body streamlined in an effort to create a racer. In one of the models, Fred Marriott achieved a speed of 150 mph but the car became airborne and was totaled. Marriott survived but the Stanleys never built another racer. The 1908 Gentlemen’s Speedy Roadster was capable of reaching a speed of 80 mph, however. F.O. Stanley retired to Estes Park, Colorado and opened a luxury hotel there, using Stanley vehicles to transport tourists into Rocky Mountain National Park. The company went out of business in 1927 as steam vehicle sales declined. Though other companies continued to produce steam cars, petroleum powered vehicles ruled the marketplace.

Elcar3ectric motors powered automobiles by the 1890s. They had short ranges but were highly popular among women for their clean, quiet, easy operation. At the turn of the century, 38% of autos sold were electric. The internal combustion engine was the rival. First patented in 1826, the engine was constantly improved. Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler independently created the first vehicles with internal combustion engines in Germany in 1855. By 1897, Americans Charles King, Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Alexander Winton were all producing model powered by petroleum.

Between 1897 and 1907, significant changes were made in automobi!cid_20130219_144457les. The bare chassis with a motor and a bench gave way to padded leather seats and framing. Over fifty new manufacturers joined the ranks in 1903 and that many more in 1904. Average costs were between $100 and $2000, depending on size and elegance. Output doubled in 1904 to over 22,000 vehicles. With each year, more manufacturers and more vehicles were added. By 1908, annual industry production rose to 63,500.

Henry Ford made huge strides in automobile manufacturing between 1903 and 1915. Ford began manufacture in 1903. His 1904 four-cylinder Model B touring car sold for $2000. But Ford dreamed of lowering the price for the average consumer. His 1906 Model N (predecessor to the 1908 Model T) runabout “bobtail” had a price of $500 while the Model K still sold for $2500. Ford began buying out competitors, building both his business and a variety of inexpensive models. Over the years, he continued to innovate features on his autos and slash prices. Then, in 1913, mmodel-t-1906-car-hiass production of the Model T began, allowing Ford to produce 1000 vehicles per day. In 1914, he introduced the 8-hour day and minimum wage standards ($5 per day for certain positions). The auto industry would never be the same.


Next week, I’ll be exploring Pullman Cars. Each Friday, I will blog about some aspect of Elitch Gardens, early Denver, or other topics related to my next novel, Escaping Yesterday. In between, I will post small factoids on my Facebook page. You can join me there and I love new friends (

Due for release in September 2015, Escaping Yesterday is set in Elitch’s Gardens, in 1905, and follows the story of Lottie Chase. Lottie is willing to take any risk to save her daughter from their abusive uncle. Stranded in Denver, Lottie meets Caleb Hudson, manager at Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, who sees her as a manipulative huckster. Caleb, a veteran suffering from PTSD, craves the tranquility of the park’s gardens. Lottie brings anything but peace as she seeks to convince the owners to add thrill rides so she can collect the sales commission and support her daughter. Neither anticipates their growing passion, common demons, or the dangers they will face as they confront their pasts and free their love.

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