The Columbia Car

Early automotive events of specific interest - a chronology
[Taken from material about Walter P. Chrysler - with additions]


     Walter P. Chrysler working as a mechanic in a railroad roundhouse in Ellis, KS.
     While there, Chrysler made his own tools.


     Henry G. Morris and Pedro G. Salom construct and test a battery-operated car
     in Philadelphia, PA.


     Morris & Salom build 4 Electrobats, as they call their new car.

     Pope Manufacturing Co., Hartford, CT, manufacturers of the Columbia bicycle,
     builds an electric car, designed by Percy Maxim, son of the inventor of the Maxim gun.


     Morris & Salom form the Electric Carriage & Wagon Co., concentrating on
     electric cab production.

     A.L. Riker forms the Riker Electric Motor Co. in Brooklyn, NY. (One of the first
     Riker electric vehicles is in the Henry Ford Museum)


      Isaac L. Rice, president of Electric Storage Battery Co, and the Electric Boat Co.,
      purchases the Electric Carriage & Wagon Co. Firm becomes part of the Electric Vehicle Co.,
      Elizabethport, NJ.

      May - Production begins on the Columbia Electric by the Pope Manufacturing Co. The vehicles
      are sold in the United Kingdom as City & Suburban Cars and in France as L'Electromotion.


      The automobile division of Pope Manufacturing Co. becomes the Columbia Automobile Co..

      The Riker Electric Motor Co. is taken over by Electric Vehicle Co. Production of the Riker car
      moved to Elizabethport, NJ, but the Riker Truck continues in production in Brooklyn, NY.

      Dodge brothers work for Canadian Typothetac Company in Windsor, Ontario. Organize the
      Evans & Dodge Bicycle Co.


     The Columbia gasoline car goes into production, with the engine in front instead of under the
     driver's seat - an industry first. This car also had a steering wheel on the left side of the car,
     another first, instead of the usual tiller on the right side.

     Columbia Automobile and the Electric Vehicle Co. merge to form the Columbia & Electric
     Vehicle Co. of Hartford, CT. The Elizabethport plant closes, ending production of the Riker.
     A.L.Riker starts up the Riker Electric Vehicle Co., Elizabethport, NJ, but this firm has no
     connection with Columbia & Electric.

     Carl Breer builds his first car - a steam car.

     Evans & Dodge Bicycle Co. taken over by National Cycle & Automobile Company,
     Hamilton, ON, which also takes over E.C.Stearns Company, Toronto, ON. The Dodge
     brothers, and Frederick J. Haynes of the E.C.Stearns Company, work for National Cycle.

     April 17 - James Churchill Zeder born, Bay City, MI (youngest brother of Fred M. Zeder).


     Columbia & Electric Vehicle, renamed the Electric Vehicle Company, acquires the Selden
     patent. Firm begins action against various firms for patent infringement.

     Dodge brothers move to Detroit, MI and open a shop on Beaubien Street making bicycles
     and parts for the auto industry.

     The Graham brothers, Joseph C., Robert C. and Ray A, begin a glass-manufacturing
     business, Pluto Glass Co. They perfect a method of mass producing glass bottles with a
     crown strong enough to use a cap instead of a cork.

     Waltern P. Chrysler marries Della Forker and is promoted to foreman at Salt Lake City.


     Jonathon Dixon Maxwell, of Detroit, MI, joins with Charles B. King and W.T. Barbour to
     form the Northern Mfg. Co., Detroit, MI. Maxwell and King were engineers at Oldsmobile.
     The first model produced is called the Silent Northern.

     Dodge brothers get contract to build 3,000 transmissions for Olds Motor Works.

     Frederick J. Haynes accepts job as manager of H.H.Franklin Company, Syracuse, NY.

     Walter P. Chrysler accepts job as manager of the Colorado and Southern shops in Trinidad, CO.


     J.D.Maxwell leaves Northern and goes to work for the Briscoe brothers, Detroit sheet metal
     contractors, most noted for the sheet metal garbage can. The Briscoes built thermo-syphon
     colling systems for Oldsmobile and provided the early backing for David Dunbar Buick.

     The Electric Vehicle Company joins with nine other car manufacturers to form the Licensed
     Automobile Manfuacturers. The group's main aim is to watch over the Selden patent, and all
     members pay royalties on the patent.
     Bert Holcomb and Lawrence Duffie (and others) establish the record of 76 hours
     between Chicago and New York in a Columbia Car.

     The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers conducts an Endurance Test
     from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and the Columbia Car driven by Bert Holcomb wins a
     Gold Medal. Lawrence Duffie also completes this difficult excursion in another
     Columbia car.  The drivers collectively call themselves the "Mud Larks."

     Albert A. Pope withdraws from the Electric Vehicle Company, and begins production of the
     Pope-Hartford in Hartford, CT. Late in the year Pope takes over the Toledo Steamer Co, of
     Toledo, Ohio, which becomes the Pope-Toledo. Pope then purchased the International Motor
     Co., Indianapolis, IN, producer of the Waverley Electric. The car is renamed Pope-Waverley.

     Dodge brothers equip their plant to build engines for Ford in return for 10% interest in Ford
     Motor Company. Cancel contract with Olds Motor Works.


     The Pope company sets up the Pope-Tribune car in Hagerstown, MD, and the
     Pope-Robinson in Hyde Park, MA.

     The Mud Larks hold a Reunion Dinner at Madison Square Garden, during the Auto Show.

     Three other firms are formed this year, all independent of each other as well as the Columbia
     company and the Pope empire - Alden Sampson Mfg Co., Pittsfield, MA; Stoddard Mfg.
     Co., Dayton, OH and Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Co., Tarryown, NY

     The Alden Sampson company had a contract to build the Moyea chassis and running gear for
     the Consolidated Motor Co., of New York. Bodies were built by the Springfield Metal Body
     Co., in Massachusetts.

     After a rival set of drivers from another firm make a new time of 72 hours 46 minutes,
     the Columbia Car, driven by Bert Holcomb, Lawrence Duffie and others, re-takes the
     Chicago-to-New York record a month later, lowering the time to 58 hours 35 minutes.

     The Stoddard-Dayton car is built by John Stoddard, son of Henry Stoddard, a Dayton paint
     and varnish manufacturer.


     Alden Sampson takes over the Consolidated Motor Co. The Moyea becomes the Sampson.
     By year end the car was replaced by the Sampson 5-ton truck.

     The Maxwell-Briscoe in production with shaft drive instead of the usual chain drive.

     Roy D. Chapin and Howard E. Coffin, leave their jobs as engineers with Oldsmobile, and with
     backing from E.R.Thomas of Buffalo, NY, form the E.R.Thomas-Detroit Co. in Detroit, MI.

     Walter P. Chrysler becomes division chief for of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad.

     Owen R. Skelton becomes engineer for Pope-Toledo Company.


     Frank Briscoe (one of the Briscoe brothers) provides financial backing for a light car designed
     by Alanson P. Brush. The company is called the Brush Motor Car Co., Detroit, MI, and is
     noted for its one cylinder engine, chain drive, wooden frame and wooden axles. Another of
     Brush's designs is built by the former Pontiac Buggy Co. - the Oakland - which in 1926
     introduces a companion car Pontiac.

     The Columbia four introduces dual carburetors.

     The economic recession of the year brings about the downfall of the Pope empire. The Overland
     Motor Company, under the new leadership of John North Willys, purchases the Toledo plant
     and moves his company there. The plant forms the nucleus for the present day Jeep complex.

     Owen R. Skelton becomes transmission specialist for Packard Motor Car Company.

     Walter P. Chrysler becomes superintendent of the shops of the Chicago & Great Western
     Railroad at Oelwein, IA


     Talks between the Briscoe brothers and William C. Durant to form one big automobile
     company collapse. The two groups go their separate ways, with Durant using his Buick as a
     nucleus for the General Motors Company and the Briscoe brothers using Maxwell-Briscoe
     and Brush to form the United States Motor Company.

     Columbia introduces Model XLVI, a 4-cylinder gasoline engined vehicle that drove an
     electric generator to provide power to an electric motor on each rear wheel. No clutch or
     transmission was used, or needed. Power to the electric motors controlled direction and
     speed. It was not a success as a motor car, but General Motors (and others) succeeded with
     the design principles on their diesel locomotives.

     With sales sliding at Thomas-Detroit, Hugh Chalmers is brought on board from National Cash
     Register. In mid 1908 the car and firm become Chalmers-Detroit.

     Walter P. Chrysler attends the Chicago Auto Show and purchases a Locomobile.

     David A. Wallace becomes a machinist at Buick Motor Company.


     The Electric Vehicle Company becomes the Columbia Motor Car Co.

     Howard E. Coffin and Roy D. Chapin design a new lighter car and leave Chalmers-Detroit to
     set up a new company.

     February 24 - Hudson Motor Car Company formed, by Roy D. Chapin and Howard E.
     Coffin with major backing from J.L. Hudson. Other backers include R.B.Jackson,
     F.O.Bezner, J.J.Brady and Hugh Chalmers

     Stoddard-Dayton forms the Courier Car Co., Dayton, OH, to produce a lower-priced car,
     the Courier.

     Carl Breer and Fred M. Zeder employed with Allis-Chalmers.

     Walter P. Chrysler becomes work superintendent of the American Locomotive Co.
     Pittsburgh, PA.

     Herman L. Weckler joins American Locomotive, where he meets Walter P. Chrysler.


     The United States Motor Company is formed, taking control of Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Co.,
     Brush Motor Co., Dayton Motor Car Co., Courier Car Co., Alden Sampson Mfg Co., and
     Columbia Motor Car Co. Of these firms, only Brush and Maxwell-Briscoe were profitable,
     well-run companies. Another asset is the Selden patent.

     Alden Sampson was run basically as a hobby, the owner not caring if profits were produced
     or not.

     Dodge brothers build a new plant in Hamtramck, MI

     Hugh Chalmers, E.R.Thomas and Roy D. Chapin groups dispose of their holdings in the others
     companies. Thus Chalmers, Thomas, and Hudson proceed on their separate, independent ways.

     The Chalmers-Detroit dropped "Detroit" . Now known as Chalmers.

     Hudson Motor Car Company builds its new assembly plant in the Pointe Claire area of
     Detroit, across the street from the Chalmer Motor Company plant.

     K.T.Keller becomes chief inspector at Maxwell-Briscoe plant in Tarrytown, NY.


     Production of the Alden Sampson company moved to Detroit. Truck production continues
     and the Sampson 35 car introduced. By year end, the Sampson was dead and
     Maxwell-Briscoe began using the plant.

     Ford Motor Company wins the Selden patent suit - Selden patent all but worthless.


     Columbia produces a sleeve-valved model, the Columbia-Knight, with 410-cid Knight engine
     Stoddard introduces a 525-cid sleeve-valved Stoddard-Knight

     Benjamin Briscoe leaves United States Motor Co. and forms Briscoe Motor Co., Jackson, MI

     September 12 - the United States Motor Company in receivership

     Walter P. Chrysler hired by Charles W. Nash, president of Buick Motor Company, as works
     manager in Flint, MI at
annual salary of $6,000.  Chrysler helped to raise production from
     20 cars a day to 550.

     K.T. Keller leaves Maxwell-briscoe to become the general superintendant of Northway Motors,
     a subsidiary of General Motors Company

     Frederick J. Haynes leaves H.H. Franklin Company for Dodge Brothers

     December 31 - the Maxwell-Briscoe company becomes the Standard Motor Company,
      a Delaware corporation.
  The company is headed by Walters Flanders (of E.M.F. fame)


     The Columbia, Brush, Stoddard and Courier end production

     January 25 - The Standard Motor Company becomes the Maxwell Motor Company

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

One of the main roots of the Chrysler Corporation is
the Columbia Car, as seen in this nifty illustration
from the early 1960s.

(The Columbia companies are at the lower-left.)


Below is a section from a much longer presentation.
The idea that the Electric Vehicle Company was a failure
is only correct in light of the larger overall picture. 
However, in its day the company was very successful,
and a played a major role in the development of the
automobile in this country and around the world!

The Electric Car and the Burden of History:
Studies in Automotive Systems Rivalry in America, 1890-1996

David A. Kirsch
University of California, Los Angeles

Reprinted from Business and Economic History, Volume Twenty-six, no. 2, Winter 1997. Copyright ©1997 by the Business History Conference. ISSN 0894-6825.

The Failure of the Electric Vehicle Company, 1897-1901

In the spring of 1897, the Electric Carriage & Wagon Company established the first motor vehicle service in the United States. Using approximately a dozen vehicles, the EC&WC's electric taxicabs were intended to compete with the horse-drawn cabs then in service on the streets of New York City. A central claim of the dissertation is that this venture-and its many progeny-represented a legitimate alternative technological system to that embodied by the choice of internal combustion.

How did the vision of motorized road transportation put forward by engineers Henry Morris and Pedro Salom differ from that shared by the other automobile manufacturers of the day? Among the several distinguishing features of Morris and Salom's effort, the most important was their decision to retain ownership of the experimental motor vehicles. Morris and Salom were convinced that the motor car-regardless of its motive power-was as yet too complicated and unreliable to be entrusted into the hands of lay operators. Recognizing the latent demand for motor service, Morris and Salom opted to create a transportation service company rather than a simple automobile sales company. In this respect, the two pioneers differed not only from the typical internal combustion vehicle producers, but also from other electric vehicle manufacturers as well.

Morris and Salom's strategy was based upon the model of livery stables that leased horses and carriages by the trip, by the day, or even by the month. They chose not to sell artifacts into the hands of unsuspecting and untrained owners, but instead to design an integrated transportation system. Their initial operating results, self-reported in the automotive press after six months of service, suggested that their vehicle service was not yet competitive with the horse-drawn cabs. Daily mileage averaged approximately 11 miles per cab, and using cost estimates from studies conducted at MIT in the early 1910s, the electric vehicle service was almost certainly a money loser during its first half-year. Yet, regardless of its initial profitability, the venture established an alternative to horse-drawn passenger transportation service and demonstrated sufficient potential to encourage the owners to expand the fleet from a dozen to over 100 electric vehicles.

Over the course of the following four years, the electric vehicle service started by Morris and Salom blossomed into the largest automobile enterprise of the day. At its height the Electric Vehicle Company was both the largest vehicle manufacturer and the largest owner and operator of motor vehicles in the United States. With multiple assembly plants, operating companies in the half-dozen largest cities in the country, and sales agents from San Francisco to Mexico City to Paris, the EVC was also one of the first American motor vehicle makers to move away-however tentatively-from the small-scale production of custom-made vehicles that dominated the emerging industry in the 1890s. Rather, the expansive, multi-divisional corporate structure of the EVC anticipated some of the innovations in corporate governance-Alfred Chandler's managerial revolution-which would spread through the rest of the automobile industry in the decade following the collapse of the EVC. Unfortunately, following its takeover by the Whitney-Philadelphia syndicate, the Electric Vehicle Company also became synonymous with trust building, stock jobbing, financial chicanery, and the infamous Selden patent.

Had the EVC succeeded in establishing profitable operating companies in major urban areas, and had those companies attracted customers, suppliers, and infrastructure providers to the electric vehicle bandwagon, it is possible to envision a radically different transportation system today. As it was, the enterprise was beset by problems, from production delays and warehouse fires to shareholder suits and blistering public attacks. Although several regional operating companies were established and perhaps 2,000 vehicles distributed to them, by 1902 all had declared bankruptcy, and the parent company was reduced to little more than a holding company for the contested Selden patent. The assets of the New York branch were transferred to a local operator, and the vehicles were used intermittently for service in and around Central Park for several more years. An unfavorable legal decision and an economic downturn would ultimately force even the EVC itself into default in December, 1907, ending once and for all the founders' dreams of electric cabs on every corner in every major American city. Between its humble beginnings and its ignominious collapse, the EVC demonstrated that electric vehicles could provide valuable transport service.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

To see many photos of the gasoline and electric Columbia Cars,
and to read
articles and news items from their entire history,
click  HERE .