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)
THE PATTERSON CAR
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
entering the competitive world of auto manufacturing, the Patterson Co.
continued to turn out wagons and advertise for farm repair work.
automobiles were manufactured. Production estimates range from 30 to
about 150 cars.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
FACES; Black Automaker Among Early Trailblazers
can have a car any color he or she wants so long as it is
black!” Henry Ford
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
after his arrival, however, his father died, leaving the young
teacher and various relatives to operate the company.
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.
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.
plan was bold. He wanted to build a vehicle that could compete
against any car on the market by being more comfortable and easy
Within two weeks, the factory began the transition to build the Patterson-Greenfield
On September 23, 1915, young Patterson saw his dream roll off the
line – an awkward looking two-door coupe.
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.)
Patterson-Greenfield was priced at $850.00. It came in two models;
a roadster and a big four-door touring car.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Random photos of the Patterson's and their products.
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.
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.|
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.
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
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
|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|
|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|