From 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

auto industry.

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

Pendleton automobiles.

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

automobile show.

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.

The Business Journal Online, January 2001

©2001 Youngstown Publishing Company. All rights reserved.