Car History Year 1923
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 22:02:23 UTC
Whenever steam-powered cars are mentioned, the name Stanley springs to mind, so it is somewhat startling to note that during the early years of this century, there were over 100 successful companies building steam vehicles in the USA.
However, it is the Stanley Steamer that is remembered above all others. Stanley was one of the more popular makes, lasted longer in the business than its rivals, and is the only steam-powered machine to hold the World Land Speed Record (127.659mph over the flying mile at Daytona Beach in January 1906) - a remarkable feat.
Whilst operating a photographic equipment manufacturing company in Watertown, Massachusetts, identical twins Francis E. and Freeland 0. Stanley produced a highly effective steam car in 1898. After a demonstration, where the Stanley out-performed all other entrants on a hill climb contest, the brothers received orders for 200 cars.
Early in 1899, the Stanley factory was visited by John Brisbane Walker, a publisher, who liked what he saw and offered to buy the company. Having just got things off the ground, the Stanleys were reluctant to sell and put a huge price on their operation hoping to put Walker off. He agreed to pay the $250,000 asked and, in partnership with Amzi Lorenzo Barber, established the Locomobile car company building steamers to the Stanley design. Walker and Barber soon disagreed and Walker left to set up his own steam car production using the Mobile name. Walker's Mobile only lasted until 1903, and Locomobile switched exclusively to gasoline power the following year.
Meanwhile, having made a financial killing from their initial venture into auto building, the Stanley brothers had been busy developing an improved steam engine and formed the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1902. Litigation over patent infringements and breach of contract were overcome, and by 1912 over 5,000 Stanley steamers had been sold, the body design evolving into a rounded "coffin-nose" style concealing the front-mounted boiler, with the two cylinder engine driving directly on the rear axle.
Despite updates, such as condensers and flash boilers, the main drawback with steam power remained its slow warm-up time and, as gasoline engines improved, Stanley's sales declined. In 1917, the brothers retired from active involvement with the company. By 1920, Stanley cars had a flat radiator with a dummy filler cap and looked much like any other automobile, but this wasn't enough to overcome the basic problems associated with steam propulsion. When Stanley went into receivership in 1923, it was offering a range of six Series 740 models including tourers, sedans, a roadster and a brougham. Based on a 130 inch wheelbase chassis, all were powered by a 20 horsepower two cylinder engine.
The Steam Vehicle Corporation of America bought the factory and assets for $572,200 in 1924, continuing production at the Newton, Massachusetts, plant until 1927. Thereafter, the Stanley name and its steam-powered automobiles were consigned to history.
Although steam cars would survive into the Thirties, 1923 effectively marked the end of the golden age for this type of automobile. The year also saw the untimely death of president Warren Harding in San Francisco in August; vice president Calvin Coolidge took over in The White House. Other Steam Cars included the Moore, which became the Westfield, and the Maryland, the story of whose rise and demise is worthy of note... The Maryland Automobile & Manufacturing company was founded in the spring of 1900, in Luke, Maryland. At the end of the year the factory was blown down by a tornado but it turned out that the owners were the only people in the county with insurance against such an eventuality. The factory was rebuilt and production resumed. Sadly, the same foresight was-lacking with regard to the future of the steamer. Maryland lasted but a year.
Pressurised steam - 2 Cylinders in parallel
56.5 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.0 x 4.0 ins.
10 - 30 (depending on steam pressure)
Tourer; Roadster; Brougham; Sedan
No. of seats
c. 1,400 lbs
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