OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE
The Stanley Brothers
By Jim Hinckley
There is an old adage that
claims two heads are better than one. Well, with the Stanley twins, F.O.
and F.E., the adage was made manifest in spades.
The brothers began displaying hints of being
gifted with sharp and inquisitive minds at a very early age. In
addition, they proved to be quite ambitious in their quest for
Both brothers pursued a career in
teaching but for minds as imaginative as theirs the confines of a
classroom proved too restrictive. Instead they turned their creative
talents toward inventing and manufacturing endeavors that included
establishment of the first company for the commercial manufacture of
violins, the invention of a home generator for gas utilized for
illumination, and pioneering work in the development of early x-ray
success proved elusive. Then in 1875, at age 26, F.E. purchased a
photographic studio for an investment of $500, an endeavor that would
prove to be the brothers Stanley path toward fame as well as fortune.
A decade of attentive management provided
the capital for the development of the first practical dry photographic
plate process. F.O. joined his brother as a full partner in the new
F.O. Stanley around 1920. Photo courtesy of
Find A Grave
In 1888, the facility in Lewiston, Maine
was sold, and a new, larger company, Stanley Brothers Dry Plate
Manufacturing Company, was established in Watertown,
demise of this pioneering company was not the result of anemic sales,
poor management, malfeasance, or even technological development that
rendered their primary product obsolete but a pivotal encounter with the
display of a steam-powered carriage at the Brockton, Massachusetts, fair
Though the initial demonstration of the
primitive automobile was rather lackluster resultant of multiple
breakdowns it was enough to pique the inquisitive and imaginative mind
of F.E. Early in 1897, a steam engine and boiler were purchased from J.W.
Penny & Sons, a body was purchased from Currier, Cameron & Company, and
a wide array of other parts was acquired from a variety of
The Stanley built “steamer” made its
debut at the 1897 Brockton Fair and the response received was such the
brothers were compelled to manufacture three more “steam wagons,” each
reflecting improvement over the predecessor. The last of these initial
models was sold for $650 to John Brisbane Walker in 1898 who
subsequently sold it, for a profit, to Amzi L. Barber, a financier who
specialized in investment in new technologies.
The Stanley built "steam wagon" bought by
Walker generated so much interest both Walker and Barber initiated
negotiations to buy out the Stanley brothers. Initially the brothers
rejected these overtures and instead concentrated on perfecting their
In November of 1898, F.E. stunned more
than 5,000 spectators as he drove the improved model around a one third
mile track to a new world automotive speed record with an average speed
of 27.4 miles per hour without mechanical failure.
Inundated with hundreds of
orders as a result of the demonstration the brothers felt compelled to
initiate the manufacture of automobiles for sale to the general public. The
first step in this new endeavor was the acquisition of a former bicycle
factory adjacent to their former photographic plate company from Sterling
Elliot in January of 1899. Next they established standardized,
interchangeable mechanical components for their vehicles, and arranged with
Currier, Cameron & Company to supply bodies.
Stanley Twins in their first car, photo from the Stanley Museum
By summer, one hundred vehicles had been
completed and sold, and the brothers had acquired patents for numerous key
components. All of this led Barber and Walker to redouble their efforts to
purchase the company.
By the end of the
summer the brothers succumbed to the astounding offer made by John Walker
who purchased the company the brothers had built for less than $20,000 for
$250,000. He immediately sold half interest in the company to Amzi L. Barber
for $250,000. Initially the new company manufactured vehicles under the name Automobile
Company of America but within weeks it reorganized as Locomobile Company of
Almost immediately the partnership disintegrated and on July 18,
1899, it was announced, “A. Lorenzo Barber and J.B. Walker, organizers of
the Locomobile Company of America, have made a partition and the outgrowth
of the is two companies, Barber will retain the Locomobile Company in
Watertwon, Mass. and will manufacture Stanley Carriages. Walker has taken
the Mobile Company of America and will manufacture Stanley Steam Vehicles.
The Stanley brothers will act as general mangers of both companies for one
As an historical footnote, in 1899 the
Stanley brothers played a key role in the launching of another American
corporate icon. The sale of their patents and photographic plate
manufacturing company became the cornerstone for the Eastman Kodak Company.
In 1901, as technological advancements to the
gasoline engine made them more practical, Locomobile reorganized, abandoned
the use of steam propulsion, and sold the Stanley patents, and former
factory, to the brothers Stanley who had been developing improved components
for steam engines. The rest, as they say, is history.
By 1903, the all-new Stanley Brothers
Manufacturing Company, was well on its way to establishing an automotive
icon that would long outlive the company and the brothers even though sales
never surpassed 10,000 units per year. In part this status was the result of
stunning record setting prowess.
In 1906, at Ormond Beach (now Daytona Beach)
Fred Marriott of the companies repair department piloted a special bodied
Stanley to a stunning 127 miles per hour, a new automotive speed record. The
following year he survived a horrendous crash at nearly 150 miles per hour
during an attempt to break that record.
The death knell for the company sounded in 1912 with the introduction of an
electric starter as standard equipment on Cadillac. A primary obstacle to
the dominance of gasoline engines had been breached.
The company soldiered on in the face of declining sales until 1923 when it
slid into bankruptcy and receivership. The assets formed a primary component
in the formation of the Steam Vehicle Corporation of America, a company that
produced a scant handful of vehicles under the Stanley name until 1927.
The brothers Stanley were not myopic in their
endeavors. In 1903, under a doctor’s recommendations, F.O. Stanley began
spending time in
Colorado. In 1907, he addressed the lack of
amenities for the increasing number of tourists by initiating construction
Stanley Hotel, a grand hotel that opened in 1909, and that is
currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and that served
as an inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
To further foster tourism in the area, which in turn resulted in a booming
business for the hotel, he had a road built from Lyons. For transport from
the train station there to the hotel he utilized specially constructed
Stanley built steam powered busses.
What the brothers may have contributed to the world in the years after the
First World War is a matter of speculation as F.E. Stanley died in an
automobile accident in 1918. F.O. spent the remainder of his life developing
Park with the establishment of the first bank there, as well as a
sewer, power, and water company.
The brothers Stanley are just one of many pioneering automobile
manufacturers who have obtained a dubious form of immortality. Their name is
known throughout the world but few know that behind the legendary automobile
were men of diverse genius that transformed the world.
©Jim Hinckley, October 2012
F.O. Stanley and wife Flora driving to the top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire
on August 31, 1899.
on Legends Of America
In the Beginning (Automotive Pioneers)
Introducing America's Most Modern Automobile -
Bathtubs, Birdcages & Chevrolet (Automotive
Jackson - The Other Detroit
King of the Road (The Continental Era)
In Praise of Eccentricity (The Thin Line between
Progressive and Insanity in American Auto History)
One Foot in the Stirrup and One on the Throttle
(The Race to Gain Public Interest in Motor Vehicles)
Dawning of a New Age (Setting the Stage for the
Battle of the Titans)
Pessimism and Myopic Visionaries - (Automobile Evolution)
Estes Park and the Stanley Hotel
Sizzle - Part One (Automotive Advertising)
About the Author:
Jim Hinckley is an award winning author and photographer, and an
official contributor to Legends Of America through a partnership developed
in October 2012. Hinckley is a former Associate Editor of Cars and Parts
Magazine, and author of multiple books, including several on Route 66.
His latest "The Route 66 Encyclopedia" is available with autograph via
Route 66 Chronicles, Jim's blog.
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