The new Cleveland gasoline runabouts, made by the Hansen Automobile Company of Cleveland, Ohio, are described in a small catalogue just issued by the company," ran a news note in 1902. "These vehicles have radiators arranged in the slopping face of the box front. They are provided with either center or slide lever steering, and are fitted with wire and artillery wheels. Simplicity of operation and control are leading features."
That was about all the hype some early brands of cars received when they bowed to the public. Today, it's hard to know what some of those ancient vehicles looked like, let alone how they handled or grabbed buyers' attention.
It was a radically different sales world for cars in the first 10 years of the 20th century. Every car seemed to be an experiment. Transmissions differed, engines ranged from massive one-cylinder affairs to small four-cylinder units and, too often, mechanical parts were not easily interchangeable, even for the same make, without some modifications. Early in that century, no one was quite sure whether the choice of motive power was going to be gasoline, steam or electricity.
Only a mere handful of American makes survive from that era. Ford is perhaps the best known, although Cadillac, Buick and the recently retired Oldsmobile have been fondly remembered over the decades.
Other notable makes from the pre-1910 era credited the period with their rise. Packard had its start in 1899 but really positioned itself in the luxury field by 1910. The Pierce name carried a stellar reputation as a towering giant among quality carmakers. Studebaker finally settled on gasoline power as its power preference and transferred its main efforts on car production instead of wagon and buggy manufacturing.
The Pope marque was among the earliest success stories, made in various cities, thus adding location to the brand name; Pope-Hartford, Pope-Toledo and Pope-Detroit being good examples.
Before 1910, owning an automobile was very much a rich man's endeavor. Even many early Fords sold for slightly less than $1,000, and that was comparable to the price of a small house at that time. Among the lowest-priced cars was the $250 Success, trumpeted as the cheapest car in America (although the emphasis by the company was on low-price, not cheap construction). Despite its name, the St. Louis-made car did not fare too well and concluded its run after about two years in production.
A carmaker's success was relative before 1910. If overhead was low, a company could plod along with an annual production of 25 cars and still claim profits. This was especially true if the car venture was a sideline of a larger company already enjoying sales success in other manufacturing.
Tiny news reports kept excitement brewing in the fledgling industry, which was already claiming a growing number of orphaned makes of cars on the loss list.
"Harry S. Moore is meeting with considerable success in introducing the Elmore in Cleveland. This vehicle, with its two-cycle motor and peculiar speed control, possess so many unique features that Mr. Moore keeps two people busy demonstrating it," noted one reporter in 1902.
Carving out a segment of the market in that period was Haynes-Apperson, later to split into two makes due to irreconcilable differences between Elwood Haynes and the Apperson brothers. Both would remain in business past 1910, each competing from the same town, Kokomo, Ind. Even by 1915, it remained to be proven which of the makes would outlast the other. Eventually, both ran out of drive in the 1920s ' Haynes in 1924, Apperson in 1925. But the future had looked rosy n 1910, since each of those competitors relied on good business judgment and notable construction.
Can the image of "orphan" be attached to ancient models rather than makes? Some collectors say, "Yes." Among the most successful of the now-orphaned models was International Harvester Co.'s Auto Wagon and Auto Buggy. Renown for the manufacture of farming equipment and machines, the company entered high-wheeler production, and by 1910 was one of the rising stars of that genre. Its two-cylinder, air-cooled, chain-drive models did more work than a team of horses, without rest and for the sake of a small amount of gasoline and oil. Those models boasted no flat tires, since they were of hard rubber, affixed to wagon-style wheels. The market peaked about 1910. Thereafter, the high-wheeler configuration was on the wane.
In 1916, the Auto Wagon and Auto Buggy were history. The company continued in truck production and later was known for passenger vehicles with a utilitarian bent. If you believe the IHC highwheelers should be considered orphans, be ready to defend your case. Some collectors will side with you on the basis of model discontinuation; others may debate the definition of "orphan." Owners of Corvairs and Chevettes may agree with your viewpoint. Owners of Hudsons, Grahams, and Kaisers might disagree.
Some makes were orphaned almost as soon as they were born. Most car collectors and historians know little about the Vimotum Company of Chicago, the maker of big gasoline trucks, one of which finally made it to the road in July of 1902. There was a Grout steam car that put out a puff of steam for 1906 only. The Sellers of 1909 probably wasn't much of a seller. The Shaw of 1900 hardly saw the light of day before it was gone that same year. The Sheldon brand lived and died in 1905. The Mueller of 1896 was another single-year make, and one of the earliest orphans in the American car industry. The Fee of 1908-'09 could not pay for itself in order to continue. Ever hear of the 1908 Allith, the 1909 Apple, the 1904 Brown-Burtt or the 1900 Buffington? The 1904 Calorie lost energy that year. The single-year Climax marked its end in 1907. Not enough people caught the 1908 Fish. Flexbi waved bye-bye in 1904. The 1904 Gale was blown away that very year.
The list of cars that were orphaned by 1910 is lengthy. Sadly, few people mourned the losses then, and even fewer realize those losses today. Too many Americans believe there were only a couple dozen brand names of cars at any given time. It's a defining moment when John Doe walks up to a Nash and says, "Never heard of that type of car!" Sadly, public memory is fleeting. Nash was one of the great success stories on the American car scene from 1917 to 1957.
Owners of orphaned cars from the earliest years of the industry take a special measure of pride. They own a piece of mechanical history, perhaps the only survivor of its type. In today's world, rarity often is gauged by a limited run of a few thousand. To stand before onlookers at a vintage car show and say your "Pop-o-mobile" is the sole survivor carries a truly unique status that would make even the rarest of today's cars blush with envy.