The C.R. Patterson & Son Carriage Company of Greenfield, Ohio became the nation's, and the world's, first and only African-American founded and owned automobile manufacturing company. The company began as a manufacturer of horse drawn carriages and ended up as a manufacturer of buses for both urban transportation systems and rural school needs.

   

Last updated on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 (See bottom of page)

   

Article on Patterson's Car from AAOW, January, 2005

  

THE PATTERSON CAR


Mr. Charles Richard Patterson, founder of what was to become the world's first Black owned automobile manufacturing company.

 


The following brief history (and photos) of the Patterson Company appeared in the 1985 Greene Countrie Towne Festival program. Posted 1/26/2004 Click photos to enlarge.
   

Greenfield holds a special place in the annals of automobile manufacturing, thanks to an ex-slave and his family. During the early part of this century, the Greene Countrie Towne was home to the only black-owned and operated automobile manufacturing enterprise known to have existed.

patterson school bus 2-26-04.jpg (27271 bytes)The head of this remarkable family was Charles (Rich) Patterson. He was born a slave on a West Virginia plantation and learned black­smithing skills that would prove useful through-out his life.

Some details about C.R. Patterson's early life have been lost in the midst of time. One writer reports that Patterson escaped to freedom shortly before the Civil War by hiking over the Allegheny Mountains and swimming the Ohio River. Another chronicler states that Patterson settled in Greenfield in 1865 but makes no mention of a dramatic escape. In any event, Patterson quickly established a reputation as a fine blacksmith.

In 1873 he went into partnership with a white man, J.P. Lowe. Patterson assumed sole own­ership a decade later upon the death of his part­ner.

The C.R. Patterson Co. turned out 28 differ­ent types of horse-drawn vehicles. The product line included buggies, backboards, phaetons, rockaways and surreys — the era's most popu­lar wagons.

Patterson and his wife, the former Josephine Qutz, were the parents of four children: Kathe­rine, Dollie, Frederick Douglass, and Samuel. It was Fred who helped guide the company into the Automobile Age in the early 20th century.

Conflicting information has been published concerning the debut of the Patterson car, also known as the Greenfield touring car. One re-port states that the company was making cars in 1902, while another writer states that the Pat­terson-Greenfield made its debut on Sept. 23, 1915.

patterson school busses 2-26-04.jpg (23287 bytes)In any case, the touring cars and roadsters were said to be mechanically superior to the "Tin Lizzie" Model T produced by Henry Ford. Special features advertised by the firm included full floating rear axle, cantilever spring, de-mountable rims, left-hand drive, center control, electric starting and lighting system, one-man top, and ventilating windshield. "Our special motor has that surplus power and greatest pull," an ad boasted. "Try it on your test hill."

The autos were powered by four-cylinder Continental engines and were said to be ca­pable of speeds of 50 mph. Both Patterson models were priced at about $850.

While entering the competitive world of auto manufacturing, the Patterson Co. continued to turn out wagons and advertise for farm repair work.

Few automobiles were manufactured. Production estimates range from 30 to about 150 cars.

Apparently there was a better market for cus­tom-bodied vehicles, as Fred Patterson decided to cease production of the cars and concentrate his efforts on such products as buses, hearses, moving vans, and trucks for hauling ice, milk and baked goods.

The buses and trucks had wood framing with metal skins. They were mounted on Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet chassis until the company shifted to an all-steel body around 1930.

For a time this strategy proved quite success­ful. Patterson buses were the first to travel the streets of Cincinnati, and other vehicles were shipped as far away as Haiti. The Patterson Co. was one of the first to manufacture two-wheeled trailers in the mid-1930's.

The combination of Detroit's mass production and the Depression dealt a fatal blow to the company in the 1930's. Unable to raise suffi­cient operating capital in Greenfield, the family accepted an offer to relocate in Gallipolis. The firm changed its name to the Gallia Body Co. and operated there for about a year before lack of financial support and a shortage of experi­enced workers caused the firm to cease opera­tions.

Only in recent years has the Patterson family received much notice for its remarkable achievements in the manufacture of motorized vehicles. An exhibit in Philadelphia and a salute during Black History Month a few years ago have helped alert others to the remarkable ac­complishments of former slave C.R. Patterson and his son, Fred.

Unfortunately, few examples of the com­pany's craftsmanship have survived to the pres­ent day. Apparently none of the motorized ve­hicles survived locally, although in her book Hills of Highland, county historian Elsie J. Ayres reports that on a western vacation in 1962, "the Ayreses were surprised to find a Patterson car, made in Greenfield, Ohio, in a place of honor in the Pioneer Auto Museum at Murdo, South Dakota. It was sitting gracefully between a 1902 Schaact and a 1913 Spacke, a Cycle car." (Editor's Note: This report has proven to be inaccurate. The auto was a Peterson and not a Patterson.)

A few of the Patterson horse-drawn wagons still can be found in this part of the country, and many area residents still hold fond memories of the Pattersons and their unique vehicles. Click photos to enlarge.


This article about Greenfield's Frederick Douglas Patterson and the Patterson automobile appeared in a black history special edition published by African-Americans On Wheels in the winter of 1996. The author was Reginald Larrie, PhD., a Detroit-based automotive writer and historian.

FORGOTTEN FACES; Black Automaker Among Early Trailblazers

By Reginald Larrie

“A customer can have a car any color he or she wants so long as it is black!” Henry Ford

Frederick Douglas Patterson would have certainly agreed with those words. For Patterson, one of the nation’s few black automobile manufacturers, realized that black was the only color he could count on. 

Frederick’s story began years before he built his first car with his father Charles “Rich” Patterson. One of the wealthiest men in his hometown, Patterson senior was the owner of the C.R. Patterson and Sons Carriage Company of Greenfield, Ohio. 

He was born into slavery to Charles and Nancy Patterson on a Virginia plantation in April 1833. He later became a blacksmith by trade. According to reports, just before the Civil War in 1861, he fled from slavery by crossing the Virginia Allegheny Mountains, hiking through West Virginia and crossing the chilling Ohio River waters. He eventually made it to the friendly town of Greenfield, apparently an important station along the Underground Railroad. 

Because of his master craftsman skills, Patterson immediately got a job at the Dines and Simpson Carriage and Coach Makers Company. Within a few years he had been promoted to foreman and later formed a partnership with J.P. Lowe, creating a carriage building company that was noted for its expert craftsmanship and high quality. 

He married the former Josephine Qutz and the couple had four children: Katherine, Dollie, Frederick Douglas and Samuel. By the time the youngest Samuel came along, Patterson was already successful. He had bought out his white partner and had started building the most popular carriages of the day. 

Patterson gave his boys the best education possible. Frederick was the first African American to graduate from a local high school, and the following year he entered Ohio State University (OSU), where he was the first black to play on the school’s football team. 

After three years, Frederick left OSU to teach in Kentucky, but only remained there for two years, before returning home to his first love – the family carriage business. 

Soon after his arrival, however, his father died, leaving the young teacher and various relatives to operate the company. 

In search of more business, Frederick decided to accompany his sales manager C.W. Napper, on his route one day. As they traveled, he began to notice more and more of those “funny-looking horseless” carriages on the road. He immediately reported his findings to the company’s board. 

“In 1902, there was one car to 65,000 people and by 1909 there was one vehicle for every 800 people and with those kinds of figures … I believe it’s time for us to build a Patterson horseless carriage,” he said. 

Frederick’s plan was bold. He wanted to build a vehicle that could compete against any car on the market by being more comfortable and easy to drive. 

Within two weeks, the factory began the transition to build the Patterson-Greenfield

Motorcar. On September 23, 1915, young Patterson saw his dream roll off the line – an awkward looking two-door coupe. 

Word about the new vehicle swept across the state like a brush fire. Some of those who saw the vehicle claimed it came with a 40 horsepower Continental 4-cylinder engine; reported top speed of nearly 50 mph and had better bodywork than the “Tin Lizzie” being made up in Detroit by some fellow named “Ford.” (Of course, by this time, Henry Ford was well on the way to becoming one of the largest automobile producers in the world.) 

The Patterson-Greenfield was priced at $850.00. It came in two models; a roadster and a big four-door touring car. 

However, the venture was short-lived because of a lack of capital and slow sales. Frederick turned his attention to producing school bus bodies for which there was a great demand. 

In 1939, the company finally closed its big wooden doors. Most believe that Charles “Rich” Patterson would have been saddened, but very proud to know that his name on a product still meant the highest standard of quality possible. 

Later, when grandson Postell Patterson was asked what happened to his grandfather’s company, he simply said, “Well, I guess Detroit got to be just too much for us.” 

(Note:) Reports that a Patterson-Greenfield car is on display in the Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, South Dakota are not correct. The car on display is a “Peterson” which was made in Michigan. If you check the body, you will see the difference. The P-G has a rounded hood and smaller headlights, etc. 

(Special thanks to Katherine Wilson Patterson, the late Postell Patterson and the many town’s people of Greenfield and Gallipolis, Ohio.) 

   

Click photos to enlarge.

Patterson Auto A.jpg (30408 bytes)  Patterson Bus A.jpg (45741 bytes) Patterson Bus B.jpg (47782 bytes) Patterson Bus C.jpg (53673 bytes) patterson car a.jpg (38853 bytes) patterson car b.jpg (95263 bytes)

patterson car d.jpg (23976 bytes) patterson car e.jpg (44572 bytes) patterson carriage a.jpg (16159 bytes) patterson roadster.jpg (20319 bytes)  

Random photos of the Patterson's and their products. 

  

patterson1.jpg (40650 bytes)  patterson2.jpg (28970 bytes)

Early promotional materials for the Patterson automobile. 

Click photos to enlarge.

Descendents of the Patterson family receiving recognition in 1996 for their family's contributions to the automobile industry.

   

patterson_buggy_d.jpg (53362 bytes) patterson_buggy_a.jpg (38517 bytes) patterson_buggy_b.jpg (84589 bytes) patterson_buggy_c.jpg (85207 bytes) patterson_buggy_label.jpg (63112 bytes)

The above wagons are products of the C.R. Patterson & Son Carriage Company of Greenfield, Ohio and are on display at the Greenfield Historical Society's B&O Depot building. Building is only open during special occasions or by appointment

Click photos to enlarge.

I recently (5/20/2002) came across this discussion concerning the Patterson roadster on the Internet. There's a little useful info so thought I would include it on this page.
From: Michel Perdreau
Subject: Patterson-Greenfield roadster (Ohio) 1916-192?
Newsgroups: rec.autos.antique

Date: 1995/04/21

Looking for information, contacts, owner(s) of the roadster version
of this car manufactured in Greenfield, Ohio by C.R. Patterson and Sons.
Fred D. Patterson was the car designer and manufacturer.

Also would like to exchange info with those with the 5-passenger 
models (4-25) & (4-35) produced the same year. Quite a rare car! Thanks. 
Michel Perdreau  
From: Gerry Swetsky
Subject: Re: Patterson-Greenfield roadster (Ohio) 1916-192?
Newsgroups: rec.autos.antique

Date: 1995/04/22

    What do you want to know about it?  It was manufactured from
    1916-1919 and from 30-150 units were built.  In 1919 the company
    moved from building autos to building bodies for commercial
    vehicles.  It fell victim to the depression in the 30's.

    The car used a 30 horsepower four from Continental.  It had 
    cantilever springs, full floating rear axle and demountable 
    rims.  It sold for $850.

    Only one Patterson is known to exist today.
   

Here's an brief article that appeared on the africana.com website 

Amazing Africana
Black History Facts

Did you ever ride in a Patterson car?

The Pattersons of Greenfield, Ohio, were an African-American family who, beginning in 1915, manufactured automobiles, buses, and trucks. They called their line the 'Patterson-Greenfield' and produced vehicles until the 1930s, when they could no longer compete with the large Detroit companies. The family was established by Charles Richard Patterson, a blacksmith who escaped from slavery in West Virginia just before the Civil War by running away to freedom in Ohio. He bought into a blacksmith business, took it over, and founded the Charles R. Patterson Carriage Co. which built various horse-drawn vehicles beginning in the 1860s.

When Patterson died, his son Frederick Douglass Patterson took over the company and decided to produce the new "horseless carriage," an early name for automobiles. They manufactured their first car in 1915. It sold for $850.Without the financial ability to expand on a large scale, the company built only 150 cars and began to make specialized buses and trucks. Frederick Douglass Patterson died in 1937.You probably never rode in a Patterson-Greenfield, but the few rare surviving automobiles are now valuable collectors' items, and you might just see one of these vehicles built by African Americans at an antique car show.

  

patterson-kathleen.jpg (21119 bytes)

November, 2003... Kathleen Patterson, the last living employee of the C.R. Patterson & Sons Company passed at the age of 94. Click HERE for additional details regarding Mrs. Pattersons life. Click photo to enlarge.
   
It has been rumored that  a Patterson car is on display in a South Dakota auto museum. Years ago, local auto dealer and Patterson devotee Tom Smith, traced down this rumor and discovered that the car was actually a Peterson. Tom also reports that another car is rumored to exist in Michigan. That car, however, was made by a company owned by a white person whose last name was Paterson (spelled with only one T). Over the years, Tom has searched diligently for a Patterson, but with no success. He believes there were only 30 cars made instead of the reported 150, so the chances of finding one are even lessened. 4/20/2004
   
The Patterson family was involved in several other businesses in Greenfield other that automobiles, busses and carriages. They were part owners of Cory-Patterson which manufactured life saving nets for fire departments and of Lowe-Patterson who made hand tools including pruning shears and hand sickles. As evidenced by the included photo, on occasion the Patterson Company also was involved in the manufacturer of furniture items. This footstool was manufactured in 1931 and is now part of Tom Smith's collection. A similar example is also owned by Greenfield's Wilma Everhart. 4/20/2004
patterson foot stool.jpg (47156 bytes) patterson foot stool b.jpg (50462 bytes)
Foot stool manufactured by the Greenfield Bus Body Company (Patterson) in 1931. Currently a part of the Tom Smith collection. Click photos to enlarge.
    
Another item in Tom Smith's collection of Patterson memorabilia is this original printers ad plate for a Patterson hand-bill. It was left to Tom by his father Eddie Smith who was also a long-time automobile dealer in Greenfield. 4/20/2004

patterson ad plate a.jpg (41900 bytes)   patterson ad plate b.jpg (49622 bytes)

Article on Patterson's Car from AAOW, January, 2005

 

 
I was very happy to discover your information on the Greenfield web site.  I am doing genealogical research for a gentleman in California and it has led me to the wife of C. R. Patterson.  His wife Josephine Outz is the older sister of my clients great grandfather, making Josephine his great aunt.
 
I noticed one item in your article that you might like to correct.  You have the maiden name of Josephine spelled Qutz but it is actually Outz.  Her widowed mother Mary L. Outz married the widower Augustus West in Highland County in 1875.  Two younger sisters of Josephine [Catherine and Rebecca] also married in Highland County.  You may check their marriage records at the courthouse.
 
Since you had made a note about the car that Elsie Ayers had identified as not being a Patterson, I thought you would be interested in this bit of information.  Strangely, the tombstone or Josephine's mother, which is in the family plot at the Greenfield Cemetery, spells the name Utz.  This is also incorrect according to all family records.
 
The Patterson actually had a total of 8 children, but only three were still living in 1900.  The other children that you do not have were Mary S., Nellie B. and Fannie.  Buried in the Greenfield Cemetery are Nellie B Patterson 1868-1872, Fannie 1877-1897
 
Thanks again for all the great information on C. R. Patterson.  It has truly added to this rich family history -- totally unknown to Josephine's brothers line who left Greenfield as a young lad and never returned.
 
Betty Crum, March, 2009