horseless carriages to the latest
models, promotions drive sales.
By Maraline Kubik
The first horseless carriages started bumping along rutted dirt roads just
before the turn of the 20th century. The spectacle usually involved an
energetic driver who had to jump out and push the machine as it approached
even the slightest hill. Horses were frightened and spectators snickered,
bombarding drivers with cat calls.
In the next 10 years, these newfangled contraptions captured the attention
of America's masses. Magazines and penny papers blasted readers with story
after story announcing the arrival of the horseless age.
Everybody with a little know-how and a basket of tools built his own
horseless carriage hoping to cash in on the emerging industry, reports Bob
Zimmerman, an antique car enthusiast.
"At that time, there were more than 2,000 makes produced in this country,"
Zimmerman says. A resident of Akron and the owner of a 1954 Packard,
Zimmerman is especially knowledgeable about northeastern Ohio's historic
Most of those early automakers produced only one or two cars. A few
managed to stay in business for a handful of years. Fewer still managed to
market their autos to buyers whose interests and spending habits not only
kept the companies afloat, but transformed them into highly profitable
In the five-county area, at least a dozen automakers tried to make a go of
it. Among the vehicles they produced were the Booth, Fredonia, Wick,
Mahoning, Packard, Trumbull, Pendleton and Twombly. The Booth and Fredonia
were both designed by a prominent Youngstown physician, Carlos C. Booth,
who commissioned the Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Co. to produce
the automobiles. Working with W. Lee Crouch of the Pierce-Crouch Engine
Co., New Brighton, Pa., Booth's first car made its debut in November 1895.
It was the first automobile in Ohio. Eager to show off their
accomplishment, Booth and Crouch entered the horseless carriage in a race
sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald.
Entering news-making events - sponsored by publications that recognized
that reporting on a subject that fascinated readers would sell papers "was
a good way to get your name in front of the public," Zimmerman says. "As
the saying goes, `Race on Sunday, sell on Monday,' " he chuckles.
The most successful automakers realized the power of the press and
capitalized on it, entering vehicles in races, hill climbs and
cross-country endurance runs.
Some 250,000 spectators turned out in New York City on Feb. 13, 1908, to
watch six motor cars set off on a 20,000-mile race from New York to Paris.
Sponsored by The New York Times and Le Matin, a Paris paper, the race -
covered by reporters who rode along with the drivers - made front-page
headlines for more than five months.
The only American-made car in that race won the event 169 days later -- 26
days ahead of its nearest competitor. Almost immediately, advertisements
for the "1909 model of the New York to Paris car" appeared in the papers
enticing potential customers who could afford to spend $4,500 on an
Five years earlier, in 1904, nearly nine years after the first automobile
was introduced in Youngs-town, the second car Booth designed, the
Fredonia, was promoted as a durable, economical automobile "for daily
use." Booth demonstrated the automobile's usefulness and durability by
driving his Fredonia every day as he made rounds to visit patients.
According to an old advertisement, Fredonias sold for $1,250. Catalogs
with detailed information about the car were available at the Fredonia
Manufacturing Co., 155-165 Market St. in Youngstown. Although the market
for horseless carriages was still in its infancy, competition for
customers was keen. James Ward Packard and his older brother, William Doud
Packard, began producing their Packard automobile in Warren in 1899, the
same year Trumbull Manufacturing Co., also in Warren, turned out its first
self-propelled vehicle. Trumbull Manufacturing produced the Trumbull and
In 1902, Youngstown industrialists Henry and Hugh Wick commissioned L.B.
Smyser, a mechanical engineer, to build their car. The Wick, a luxurious
family car with a royal blue aluminum body, was the largest and most
expensive car built in the United States at that time. It cost between
$8,000 and $20,000, and was the primary attraction at the Cleveland
A year later, the Youngstown Carriage and Wagon Co. changed its name to
the Mahoning Motor Car Co. The name change coincided with the introduction
of its automobile, the Mahoning.
"Until Henry Ford's Model T [was introduced in 1908 -- the car was a 1909
model -- the vast majority of horseless carriages] were a rich man's car,"
Zimmerman says. Affluent men were the only ones who could afford to spend
$1,000 or more for the new machines. "Ford's dream was to build a car for
the masses," Zimmerman continues. He perfected the assembly line, which
allowed him to produce and sell cars at a much lower price.
By 1910, service stations began appearing on street corners to serve the
growing number of "automobilists," Zimmerman says. Using hand pumps,
drivers drew gasoline from underground tanks into glass jars. After
inspecting the gas for dirt and other materials, it was poured through a
filter before it was put into the fuel tanks of gasoline-powered autos.
Service stations also catered to owners of steam- and electric-powered
Before service stations, automobile owners bought gasoline, which was sold
as cleaning fluid, at the grocer's. Blacksmiths were also known to sell
gasoline as their customers made the transition from horse powered
transportation to horseless carriages.
By the 1920s, the auto industry had mushroomed into one of the nation's
most important and fastest-growing business sectors. Luxury automobile
makers operated their own service centers where drivers -- primarily
chauffeurs for wealthy families -- were pampered while their cars were
serviced, he says.
During the Great Depression, that changed. Many affluent families lost
their fortunes. Even those who managed to maintain their wealth were not
buying luxury automobiles. "It wasn't good to pass the bread lines in a
limousine," Zimmerman says. "People would throw stones."
Many automakers went belly up. Others changed their product lines,
dropping cars altogether and producing only trucks, or dropping luxury
automobiles and producing lines of more economical cars. Some automakers
merged. "Ford saved Lincoln," Zimmerman says. "Cadillac had General
Motors." Other automakers, such as Packard, adapted their products to the
country's changing economy. In 1935, he notes, Packard came out with a
smaller automobile priced at about $1,000. "In 1937 it came out with the
Six, which cost about the same as a Buick. It was a big success with the
middle class and this is what saved the company," Zimmerman explains.
After World War II, automakers "could sell anything on four wheels," he
continues. There were no new cars from 1942 to 1944 with the country and
automakers devoting all resources to war production, he says. When the war
ended, "everybody wanted a new car. It was a seller's market." Eager
buyers even bribed dealers to move their names to the top of waiting lists
so they could buy cars sooner.
GM emerged as the largest automaker, Zimmerman notes, and "it was said
that what was good for GM was good for the country."
That pent-up demand for new cars lasted into the 1950s. Then, the market
made an about face. A slowdown in the auto market triggered several
consolidations in the 1950s, Zimmerman recalls. The independents --
Packard, Willys, Jeep, Hudson, Studebaker, Kaiser and Nash, among others
-- could not compete with the Big Three: GM, Ford and Chrysler.
©2001 Youngstown Publishing Company. All rights reserved.