The earliest practical cars produced in the United States date to the late-eighteenth century. Steam technology was first introduced in the 1700's and became commonly associated with trains. Steam translated well to automobile usage; however, it required an understanding of pressure valves and was not easy to use or repair. Governments legislated against the use of steam for automobile usage, which hindered their popularity. A number of companies attempted to make cars that worked off of steam - most notably the Stanley Motor Carriage Company - but it did not become hugely popular in part because other technologies were introduced. Electric batteries were put on cars beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Early electric cars were unable to hold a charge, though, and rarely allowed for fast speeds or long distances. They proved only marginally successful by the dawn of the twentieth century, mostly with inner-city taxi companies.
Many consider the day when two German men, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, independently submitted applications for patents on gasoline-powered engines (January 29, 1886) as the birth of the modern automobile. The Duryea brothers are widely credited with building and demonstrating the first gasoline-powered automobiles in the United States at their Springfield, Massachusetts-based business - the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. That was in 1893. And a new industry, as well as a new way of life, began.
Hundreds of different manufacturers of automobiles sprang up around the country after that, everyone competing to sell their cars. Ransom E. Olds was the first to mass produce his Runabout (from 1901 through 1905). Henry Ford learned from Olds and improved upon his assembly line when he sold his Model T. The T would eventually be regarded as the most important car in history - its impact on the lives of people around the world cannot be exaggerated. Of course, he had competition. The American Treasure Tour is proud to be able to display a few examples of the Model T, as well as other cars from the first few decades of the twentieth century.
We hope you enjoy our preserved automobile collection. Unless otherwise noted, these cars have received minimal restoration. When possible, they present their original paint, dating back over a hundred years in some instances, from when they were brand new.
1901 Oldsmobile Runabout:
- The Curved-Dash Runabout, as many often refer to it, was a major innovation in the early days of the automobile industry. It was introduced only fifteen years after Benz altered the then-modern perspective on transportation with his little automobile. At the time, cars were a luxury plaything for wealthier people - and construction of them was often prohibitively slow. Ransom Olds not only developed the first assembly line to be used in car production with his Runabout (it was a stationary assembly line, where the men moved from car to car, while Ford's later design had the car move from man to man), but he also targeted a more middle-class clientele for his car. Priced at only $650 per car, it was still expensive, but approachable by people with the use of installment purchases. The Runabout on display at the American Treasure Tour is a reconstruction dating to the 1950's; however, it does accurately portray how the vehicles would have appeared when they were new to the streets. They are truly a perfection of simplicity, and their influence on future vehicles is evident as you look through the different cars on display at the American Treasure Tour.
1905 Franklin Touring Sedan:
- The Franklin Automobile Company out of Syracuse, New York produced cars from 1902 to 1934 under the leadership of Herbert H. Franklin (1866-1956). Born in Lisle, New York, Franklin moved to Coxsackie when he was nineteen. There, he experimented with many different professions, including those of a newspaper man, a real estate agent, and a bicycle shop owner. Using the profits he had made in Coxsackie, Franklin moved to Syracuse and realized his interest in die casting (forcing molten metal into a mold cavity to create a desired shape). He established the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company when he was 27 years old. When it opened in 1893, the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company was the first die-cast making shop in the world.
- In 1901, Franklin teamed up with a mechanical engineer named John Wilkinson, who designed an air-cooled engine for his Franklin Automobile Company, with H.H. as the company's primary shareholder. The air-cooled engine was a substantial innovation at the time, since most cars required water as an engine coolant to function properly. During colder months, the water would freeze in the engines which rendered the vehicles nonfunctioning. Anti-freeze fluid would not be developed for a number of years. Until then, some of the other solutions to the problem, such as using salt water, proved more damaging to the engine.
- John Wilkinson was the son of one of the founders of Syracuse, notably the man who named the New York community after the ancient Greek city on Sicily. Wilkinson was an athlete with an immense curiosity for technology. He had a job at which he worked on bicycles, then progressed to internal combustion engines. He became so knowledgeable of them that he ultimately built a prototype car, which he introduced to H. H. Franklin. Impressed, Franklin invested in Wilkinson’s car design and produced the cars for his Franklin Automobile Company. The car was designed to be lightweight and simple, with a self-starter that was operated with compressed air. Their first car was introduced in 1902, which was the first 4-cylinder car produced in the United States. The 4 cylinders substantially reduced the bouncing created by the more common 1-cylinder engines of the day. By 1905, they had begun production of 6-cylinder engines. The air-cooled engine they produced made travel during any season very practical in the time before anti-freeze. They were a luxury-brand vehicle that sold over 150,000 cars before they were forced to shut down during the Great Depression. In its heyday, Franklin was one of Syracuse’s largest employers and one of the most successful automotive companies in the country.
- In 1905, Syracuse residents filed numerous complaints with the city against Franklin, angry that the company tested their vehicles on residential streets and concerned at the endangerment of civilian lives. One complaint was that the cars were tested at speeds of up to 30mph, which was considered too fast for urban streets. The same year, Franklin was ranked the fifth largest producer/seller of automobiles in the country. When Franklin shut down in 1934, the Carrier Corporation took over its factory building – replacing production of the air-cooled vehicle with the manufacture of air conditioners. The assets of the company (the cars and stuff) were then purchased by the Toledo, Ohio-based Willys-Overland Company.
The 1905 Franklin on display has a door in the rear for back-seat passenger access. There is also a bell in the front of the vehicle, instead of the horn that was traditionally located next to the driver’s seat. A button on the floor is located near the brake pedal for easy access, so the driver could press down on with their foot to trigger the clapper to strike. The steering wheel is on the right-hand side as well, which was quite common in the early days of American automobiles.
1907 ABC Touring Sedan (Restored):
- 1907 ABC Car – This “high wheeler” Autobuggy automobile was built in St. Louis, MO between 1906 and 1910. St. Louis was the hub of car manufacture west of the Mississippi, with a number of smaller companies established there. Originally called the Auto Buggy Manufacturing Company, they changed their name to ABC at the time they released this model. ABC was run by Amedee B. Cole, who claimed that his were “the cheapest high-grade car[s] in America,” and there were three styles made: a two-passenger Runabout, a three-passenger tonneau, and a Touring Car (the Touring Car is on display). They could go up to thirty mph (forward and reverse), and the high wheels were generally regarded as appealing because they reduced the likelihood that the cars would get stuck in the mud at a time when very few streets were paved in the United States. An original advertisement from 1909 offers the ABC Touring Car for $650. Unfortunately for Cole, the high wheels fell out of popularity shortly after he put his Touring Car on the market, and sales were poor. Debt compelled the closure of the company, with an involuntary declaration of bankruptcy insisted upon by Cole’s creditors in December 1910.
Amedee B. Cole was born in 1855 into a pioneer family. He married Annie M. Jackson in 1879 and they had three daughters and two sons who survived into adulthood. Cole had been in the grain business for over twenty years, prior to taking over his father-in-law’s interest in nearby mining after his death. By 1912, he became the vice-president general of his local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, and he was a member of the Merchants’ Exchange for 44 years, and a Republican State Committee member for two two-year terms. He became embroiled in family lawsuits that created substantial tensions between him and his son John Jackson Cole over the estate of Amedee’s late brother Nathan. John’s wife, Amedee's daughter-in-law, brought an alienation suit against Amedee, claiming that he created a rift between her and his son due to enmity over Nathan’s estate. Amedee fought that and other lawsuits over trust agreements during much of his life. Cole died on November 2, 1922 at 67 - after what was described as a “gradual decline” that lasted two years. At the time of his death, he was described as having worked for the Payton Motor Company of St. Louis, rather than being at one time the head of his own automotive business.
The ABC car on display is one of only three remaining ABC’s known to exist anywhere. It required full restoration to be able to put it on display, due to its poor condition when it arrived. Parts that were missing upon receipt of the car from the previous owners out of St. Louis, Missouri had to be created from scratch, but the engine came in good condition, so that was left largely untouched during restoration.
c.1909 Sears Motor Buggy:
- Richard Sears established his mail order company in 1886 in an effort to sell overstock watches. His catalog, introduced in 1896, would become one of the most famous in the world.
- When Sears retired in 1908, new president Robert Wood introduced the first car to the catalog, the Motorbuggy. A high wheeler designed by Alvaro Krotz, the vehicle sold originally for $395 on page 1,150 of the 1909 catalog, advertised as being “So easy to drive, a child could do it,” and capable of reaching every speed between one and twenty-five.
Actual advertising for the Motor Buggy was first distributed in Spring 1909 in a “Special Motor Buggy Circular” included in the Spring general catalog. Its first appearance in an actual catalog was in the Fall & Winter 1909-1910 catalog, listed on Page 1150 as Item # 21R333, selling for $395, with $25 off if you opted to not purchase the fenders and top. Put in some oil and gas, and the vehicle will run. The car has a two-cylinder, air-cooled engine with 14 horsepower. It went from 3 to 25 miles per hour, and replacement mufflers were 85 cents each. Cars could be purchased in the following colors: Carmen Red & Black or Brewster Green & Black. Cars could be picked up in Chicago or delivered by rail to your closest train depot. All that the new owner would need to do was to uncrate it, do some minor assembly, add oil and gas, and drive home. The 1910 catalog acknowledges four of the original six models of the available in a four-page spread:
Model G - without top or fenders, but with 3 black oil lamps, horn, carpet, 1 gallon of lubricating oil, tool kit, and 36 x 1/38" solid tires, $370.00.
Model H - with top, fenders, side curtains and storm front, plus other equipment as above, $395.00.
Model J - same as the Model H, but with running boards, $410.00.
Model K - Same as Model J, but with special 38 x 2" cushion tires with resilient corrugated tread, $475.00.
Model L - same as Model J, but with special 34 x 3" double tube clincher pneumatic tires, $495.00.
Model M - same as Model K, but with non-folding "Cab Top," flexible doors on spring rollers, two-section glass windshield with upper section folding in and fastening to top, disappearing side curtains, $525.00.
The Summer 1911 catalog offered a Surrey option as well, and the price for the original Model G was reduced to $325.
- The crate the buggy was shipped in was offered free of charge and was often repurposed by purchasers once they received it. The car itself never made much money for Sears. Sears sold it more as a prestige item. They discontinued production of the Motor Buggy not because it proved unpopular but because the expense of its production surpassed the profit they made. Sears advertisements included glowing testimonials received from satisfied customers, like Harry Dobins of Sharpsburg, Ohio, who said: "It beats a horse bad, as it don't eat when I ain't working it and it stands without hitching, and, best of all, it don't get scared of automobiles."
- The Spring & Summer Catalog of 1912 was the last appearance of the Motor Buggy, on page 1213. By this time, production of the Motor Buggy had been taken over by the Lincoln Motor Company [a different company than that which would be incorporated into the Ford Motor Company], and continued to use the Sears name until the stock was gone. They retired the Motorbuggy in 1912 as being unprofitable and outdated. Around the same time they did this, Sears increased the investment they made in their prefabricated houses, which proved highly successful and were sold to Americans across the country. When purchased, the homes included all of the materials and instructions necessary. Everything would arrive via train to the depot closest to where the purchasers lived. They would then take it to their plot of land and construct a residence for their family. Between 1908 and 1940, Sears sold an estimated 70,000 houses. Unfortunately, they proceeded to destroy their records of sales afterwards, so it is difficult to track down surviving houses today.
- For the story of the Franklin Automobile Company, please refer to our heading on the 1905 Franklin above. One notable distinction between the earlier vehicle on display and this one is the direction of the engine. If you notice, the hand crank on the 1905 car, used to crank up the engine, is located behind the driver's side front wheel. That's because the engine was placed sideways in the vehicle (at least by contrast to the generally-accepted placement of it by today's standards). The company shifted this by 1909 so that the crank is clearly visible with this vehicle and located in the front, under the grill and between the two front wheels. There is no practical difference in this move, although it did make the Franklin more similar to the competition.