The Story of Alexander Winton; Automotive Pioneer and Industrialist
Golias Publishing, Inc.
7271 Lonesome Pine Tr.
Medina, OH 44256
Phone: (330) 483-4110 Fax: (330) 483-4515
Making It As A Manufacturer
Even though Winton was probably making money on bicycles when the Winton Motor Carriage Co. was incorporated on March 15, 1897, he nevertheless needed additional financing for his new enterprise. He later said in an interview which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post of February 8, 1930 that he got his first stockholder even before the company was organized when Irving D. Metcalf, a professor from Oberlin College, came by unannounced and asked if he could invest $5,000 in the enterprise. George Brown put in some money when be became a partner, and Zeb Davis, mentioned in Chapter One as a Vice President of the bicycle company and a man who had been associated with Brown when they were both with the Standard Lighting Company, also put $5,000 into the new business.
Another early investor was George Lewis Weiss, a Cleveland sales agent for various manufacturers of railroad equipment who bought 170 shares. But most potential investors lacked the foresight to see the horseless carriage as a solid business proposition. Such apathy only strengthened Winton's resolve to prove to the world that his motor carriage was a better means of transportation than the horse.
On June 12, 1897 Winton drove one of his two-cylinder runabouts to Elyria and back, a total distance of about sixty miles. According to a story in the May 1897 Horseless Age there had been an earlier trip to Elyria and back, indicating that Winton had made a trial run before going for headlines in June. Scientific American of July 24, 1897, cited earlier, reported that the trip was made "without a hitch," referring to its means of propulsion.
A few weeks later Winton made another attempt to get some publicity by driving the same or a similar runabout from Cleveland to New York. Accompanied by his shop superintendent, William A. "Bert" Hatcher, he left Cleveland on July 28 and arrived in New York on August 7, covering some 800 miles (including detours looking for better roads) in seventy-eight hours and forty-three minutes of actual running time. The journalists of the day gave the feat passing mention, But Winton wanted headlines. That's when it probably occurred to him that he himself was partly to blame for the lack of recognition because he never again made the mistake of performing newsworthy deeds without prior arrangements to ensure that they would be duly publicized.
Whether the meager publicity was the result of the public's apathy regarding Winton's newfangled horseless carriage is arguable, but the fact remains that production of his machines began slowly. In fact, Winton had only four cars to show when Robert Allison of Port Carbon, Pennsylvania appeared at the factory with cash in hand on March 24, 1898, ready to buy a Winton automobile as advertised in Scientific American. The purchase was the first of an American-made standard advertised model and, as such, could be called the beginning of the American automobile industry.
In February 1896 Charles and Frank Duryea established a company with the intent to manufacture horseless carriages in Springfield, Massachusetts. There were others who also were gearing up for mass production at this time, including Elwood Haynes, Thomas Jeffery and Ransom Olds; But Winton has always been credited as the first to sell a series of identical cars.
Strangely, the first person to document Winton's early success in the manufacture of motor vehicles in America was Henry Sturmey, a reporter from the British publication, The Autocar. As reported in the October 28, 1899 issue, Sturmey visited Detroit before coming by overnight boat to Cleveland, and his comparison of the two cities is particularly amusing today. Detroit, he said, was one of the most attractive cities in the United States from an "autocarist's" point of view, But that very little autocar activity was in evidence. He noted that the Ford Co. was reported to be experimenting with a gasoline motor car and the Olds Co. was erecting a considerable factory for the purpose of making gasoline motors. However, he thought it was questionable whether Olds would extend its operation to building a complete car or whether the motor was one of suitable character for that purpose.
Sturmey found Cleveland, on the other hand, to be a smoky, unattractive manufacturing city, with roads for the most part not of the best, and made difficult for automobile traffic by the number of high projecting street car lines. However, from an "autocar" point of view Sturmey thought that Cleveland was one of the most interesting places he visited.
What's more, he found the 6-hp single cylinder Winton substantially built, exceedingly easy to ride in, and well calculated to stand the rough work of American roads. Winton, he said, told him that he was so convinced of the high performance of his vehicles, one of which he had recently driven to New York at an average speed of fifteen miles an hour, that he had challenged noted French chauffeur Fernand Charron to a race. Sturmey went on to say that Winton had already delivered about one hundred vehicles, that he counted some thirty machines in various stages of completion, and that Winton himself had informed him that they were producing cars in lots of twenty-five.
Records show that one of the earliest Wintons sold was picked up at the factory by James Ward Packard of Warren, Ohio on August 13, 1898. Packard and his older brother, William Doud Packard, were founders of the Packard Electric Company, making electrical cable, lamp bulbs and transformers, But had no connections with the motor carriage business at the time. However, it is a well-known story that Packard was unwilling to accept the machine's inevitable mechanical idiosyncrasies and returned the car to the factory on numerous occasions. Excerpts from J. W. Packard's diary provided by noted Packard historian Terry Martin of Warren, Ohio and printed in the May-June 1996 issue of The Horseless Carriage Gazette indicate that Packard returned to the factory several times and that Winton himself went to Warren at least once to placate Packard, but without success. In the course of his dealings with the company Packard became acquainted with George Weiss and Bert Hatcher. As we said, Weiss was one of Winton's major stockholders and Hatcher was the shop foreman who had accompanied Winton to New York in 1897. As the story goes, Winton eventually gave up trying to please Packard and told him that if he thought he could build a better motor carriage then he ought to do exactly that. Packard agreed and began experimenting with his own motor carriage, founding the Ohio Automobile Company in 1899, eventually hiring Hatcher away from Winton and convincing Weiss to take his money out of Winton's company and invest with him. Winton was so incensed by Weiss's defection that he removed his name from the list of the first fifty buyers that was published in The Auto Era as late as October1908, even though Weiss was buyer number four on lists published elsewhere, including the January 1927 issue of MoToR.
It's important to understand that many problems had to be solved in the course of succeeding as an early automotive pioneer that were indirectly related to the design and production of the automobile We don't know what year or years he was talking about, But Winton said in The Saturday Evening Post of February 1930 that storage batteries were "practically useless" when he first started.
"The battery was nothing But a receptacle holding containers, or cups, filled with the active acid fluid. These cups were made of carbon, and after a car had traveled a couple of blocks the cups were sure to break, spilling their contents and rendering them useless.
"A man named Nungesser was building ours, and they were causing me so much trouble that I refused to put them in the cars. I went to Nungesser and said to him: `I want you to tell me the truth. For weeks you have been promising a dependable battery and you haven't delivered. What's wrong? Can't you make one?'
"His face flushed as he admitted; `I can't, Mr. Winton. I've tried everything and can find nothing.'
"That was bad news for me. I went into his plant, looked over various experiments and finally suggested: Why don't you use a wire gauze for your cup instead of carbon?'
A wire gauze?'
`Yes. Use copper. It is flexible and will not deteriorate in the acid solution.'
`He tried it and it worked. Worked so well that he offered me a half interest in his business, I declined, although it would not have cost me a cent. I told him I was having troubles enough in the automobile business, That suggestion solved battery difficulties for a good many years and was really the beginning of the present storage battery. Nungesser later sold out to one of the big battery companies for an appreciable sum of money.
Besides the mechanical difficulties, another stumbling block in the path of early motor car inventors was the average citizen's perception that they were nothing more than crackpots whose inventions were too outlandish to be taken seriously.) Public opinion ran the gamut from polite snickering to highly vocal intolerance, all based on the proposition that the horse always had been and always would be man's primary means of transportation!
But gradually, mostly because of the pioneering promotional efforts by men such as Alexander Winton, the public came to recognize that the days of the horse were numbered. It's no coincidence that the first trade journal devoted to the motor car business was called the Horseless Age. We are getting ahead of our story a bit to cite the following examples, But they show that public acceptance was turning just as the Nineteenth Century was coming to an end.
Following Allison and Packard and the others who numbered among Winton's first fifty buyers, another early customer was Doctor Pierce, the famous patent medicine man of Buffalo, New York, who took possession of six Winton delivery wagons early in 1899. This was reported in the first issue of The Auto Driver, dated September 1901, which also included the news that both Reginald and Alfred Vanderbilt had purchased Winton 8-hp. machines to use at their Newport, Rhode Island summer homes.
What's more, the Cleveland Postmaster tested a Winton motor wagon in December, 1899, sending it over a route that a horse-drawn wagon routinely covered in six hours. The Winton finished the test in 2 hours and 27 minutes despite the fact that there was a big snow storm in progress, and the postmaster said that he would file a favorable report to Washington. The test was reported in The Horseless Age of December 20, 1899,
But it was several years before motorized postal vans would be seen on the streets of Cleveland.
1899 was also the year that the Winton Motor Carriage Co. built the first American auto hauler, using a modified short wheelbase touring car, It pulled a small semi-trailer that carried one vehicle which partly rode over the top of the truck portion.
Nobody knew better than Alexander Winton, seeing that it took fourteen months to deliver fifty cars, that something had to be done to increase demand before he could afford to increase production. He already knew that advertising worked to a fair extent in reaching a small market, but advertising wasn't creating new customers fast enough to suit him.
What to do? He knew how to make new cars, But how was it possible to make new customers? Publicity was the answer, of course, and that's when Alexander Winton, at age 39, decided to make headlines!