Smithsonian Automobile Collection

This introductory text is pulled from the1957 Smithsonian Publication "Automobiles and Motorcycles in the U.S. National Museum"written by curator Smith Hempstone Oliver.

At present a large number of collections of antique automobiles exist in the United States. Most are small, reflecting the discoveries of private collectors; but more than a few are large, representing considerable effort by either individuals or organizations. None contains so many actual automotive milestones, however, as that housed in the U. S. National Museum, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C.

This collection includes, for example, the Duryea car, built in Springfield, Massachusetts, which is universally considered to be the first American automobile driven by an internal-combustion engine. For those who endorse the claim of Elwood Haynes and the Apperson brothers, it also includes the first vehicle produced as a result of their genius. Neither of these cars would be of much use to the collector who might wish to operate them, but they are the two most important very early gasoline vehicles built in this country.

As most of us know, the internal-combustion-engine vehicle was not the first self-propelled vehicle to travel the public road. Long before the appearance of the first Daimler, Benz, or Duryea gasoline automobiles, steam wagons of various forms were built. Recent acquisitions of the Smithsonian's National Museum that come under this heading are the Roper steam velocipede of the late 1860's and the Long steam tricycle of 1879-1881. While much more recent than the Cugnot three-wheeled gun tractor of 1770, still preserved in Paris, these are very early as far as American development is concerned, and are of unusual interest in themselves. Probably the most elusive of automotive treasures are the early racing cars, which were always few in number. The hazardous nature of their use saw to it that few remained for many years. It is astounding, therefore, that the Winton "Bullets" Nos. 1 and 2 both are to be found in the Smithsonian collection. These machines share with Henry Ford's "999" and the Peerless "Green Dragon" the honor of writing the first chapters in the romance of automobile racing here, a story still being lived on the concrete of Sebring and the bricks of Indianapolis.

Less spectacular, but no less important, are the examples of the first models of such well-known American automobiles as the Oldsmobile, Franklin, Cadillac, and Autocar. These were among the very first cars offered to the buying public by their makers, and on their acceptance the industry was destined to rise or fall. Ask any collector to choose which car in the Smithsonian collection he would like to own, and he would name the Simplex. With the Mercer Raceabout and the Stutz Bearcat, the chain-drive Simplex Speed Car is the most sought after of early automobiles. It represents all that is grand in the cars of the brassbound era a truly mighty engine and beautiful, clean lines. Only a few of these cars remain today, and this is one of the best.

Regardless of the tides of human fortune, the really worthwhile early machines are being preserved. So many important relics from the dawn of the industry have already disappeared that now, more than ever, must those remaining be saved, to be marveled at by future generations.

Currently on loan
Location
Currently on loan
Date made
1902
purchased
H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company
maker
H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Co.
ID Number
TR.311195
accession number
143470
catalog number
311195
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1894
Associated Name
Apperson, Edgar
Apperson, Elmer
maker
Haynes, Elwood
ID Number
TR.262135
catalog number
262135
accession number
52009
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1901
date made
1902
maker
White Sewing Machine Co.
White Co.
ID Number
TR.309497
catalog number
309497
accession number
101849
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TR.181658
catalog number
181658
accession number
1899.35051
35051
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1903
maker
Olds Motor Works
ID Number
TR.312854
catalog number
312854
accession number
167743
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1900
ID Number
TR.309639
catalog number
309639
accession number
106490
This is the first production car that Alexander Winton sold.
Description
This is the first production car that Alexander Winton sold. One of America’s earliest automobile manufacturers, Winton had repaired and sold bicycles in the 1890s, then began producing gasoline cars in Cleveland for affluent Americans who wanted to try the new thrill of driving. Robert Allison, a retired machinist in Port Carbon, Pennsylvania, purchased this car. Winton vehicles became known for their quality and rugged durability; Alexander Winton fielded several race cars in the early 1900s, and H. Nelson Jackson made the first transcontinental automobile trip in a 1903 Winton touring car. The Winton Motor Carriage Company made cars until 1924. The Winton Engine Company, a successor company, donated the 1898 car to the Smithsonian Institution in 1929.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1898
maker
Winton Engine Company
ID Number
TR.309601
accession number
105119
catalog number
309601
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1899
maker
Kelsey, Carl W.
Tilney, I. Sheldon
Kelsey, Carl W.
Tilney, I. Sheldon
ID Number
TR.308029
catalog number
308029
accession number
69850
The Rauch and Lang Carriage Company of Cleveland, Ohio built this automobile in 1915. The car was donated to the Smithsonian in 1929. Rauch and Lang cars were expensive vehicles and were often owned by rich urban women.
Description
The Rauch and Lang Carriage Company of Cleveland, Ohio built this automobile in 1915. The car was donated to the Smithsonian in 1929. Rauch and Lang cars were expensive vehicles and were often owned by rich urban women. According to a 1913 Washington Post article, Rauch and Lang automobiles were easy to drive, and the company's product was "the one best adapted for driving by women and children." This electrically powered automobile is a four-passenger brougham, with plum-colored upholstery, solid tires, and a tiller for steering. The Smithsonian's example was donated to the collection by the wife of William C. Gorgas, who had been Surgeon General of the Army and died in 1920. It is likely that she used the vehicle rather than him. Like a number of automakers, notably Studebaker, the Rauch and Lang Company started out making coaches and carriages.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1914
previous owner
Gorgas, William Crawford
maker
Rauch & Lang Carriage Co.
ID Number
TR.309622
catalog number
309622
accession number
106301
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1894
ID Number
TR.181658 [dup1]
catalog number
181658
accession number
35051
Dr. John Oscar Skinner, superintendent of the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., drove this runabout from 1906 to 1932. Physicians and affluent women in many cities bought electric cars because they were clean, quiet, comfortable, and easy to operate.
Description
Dr. John Oscar Skinner, superintendent of the Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, D.C., drove this runabout from 1906 to 1932. Physicians and affluent women in many cities bought electric cars because they were clean, quiet, comfortable, and easy to operate. Cities and larger towns had power grids that provided electricity to recharge car batteries. But electric cars were expensive, and electricity rates were high. Maintaining batteries was a complicated, hazardous task often left to a commercial garage. Low mileage between charges and the absence of electric power in rural areas further limited the market for electric cars as Americans drove longer distances.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1904
maker
Electric Vehicle Co.
ID Number
TR.310575
catalog number
310575
accession number
123348
Andrew Riker was one of several electric vehicle enthusiasts who rose to prominence in the early automobile manufacturing industry. In 1884, when Riker was a teenager, he designed and built a three-wheeled electric tricycle.
Description
Andrew Riker was one of several electric vehicle enthusiasts who rose to prominence in the early automobile manufacturing industry. In 1884, when Riker was a teenager, he designed and built a three-wheeled electric tricycle. Four years later, he established the Riker Electric Motor Company in Brooklyn, New York to manufacture motors and dynamos. The Riker Electric Vehicle Company, which he founded in 1899, built more than a dozen types of electric cars and trucks. In the early 1900s, most cars were small and open, but the owners of the Smithsonian’s ca. 1900 Riker electric demi-coach, Herbert and Martha Wadsworth, were born to wealth and could afford a large, enclosed car, even though it was at the upper end of the price range. Herbert inherited vast acres of farm land in upstate New York, and he managed a creamery and flour mill. Martha’s father, Henry Blow, developed mining interests in Missouri and became a leading figure in the industrial and commercial development of St. Louis. Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth spent the winters in Washington, D. C. and mingled with the city’s social elite. In 1902, they built a Beaux Arts mansion on Washington’s fashionable Dupont Circle. They equipped it with modern conveniences: electricity in every room, dual steam radiator and forced air heat, a refrigerated room cooled with ice, and the most up-to-the-minute form of urban transportation, an electric automobile. Working with their architect, they designed a ground floor tunnel that substituted for a porte-cochere (exterior shelter over a driveway). With no tailpipe emissions, the Riker rolled safely and silently through the depths of the mansion, and it carried Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth through Washington’s winter weather in relative comfort. An “automobile room,” one of the first indoor garages in Washington, was equipped with battery charging equipment and a car wash to keep the Riker ready for use.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1900
inventor
Riker, Andrew Lawrence
maker
Riker Electric Vehicle Company
ID Number
TR.310470
catalog number
310470
accession number
118161
The White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio, began making steam powered automobiles in 1900. Cleveland was a center of early American automobile production.
Description
The White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio, began making steam powered automobiles in 1900. Cleveland was a center of early American automobile production. Other manufacturers in the city included the Winton Motor Car Company, The Cleveland Motor Car Company, and the Peerless Motor Car Company. White Steamers became a popular brand of steam car. Founder Thomas White’s sons Rollin, Windsor, and Walter, were all auto enthusiasts, and helped get the company into the automobile industry.
In November 1906, the automaking part of the business split off into a separate company, named the White Company. After 1911, the company stopped making Steamers and focused on producing gasoline driven engines. Over the course of their steam-making career, the company produced 9,122 White Steamers. In 1918, the company stopped making cars (except if they were specially ordered) and concentrated on making trucks. It still makes trucks and buses.
The first auto manufacturers were bicycle and carriage makers, metalworkers, and machinists. In the 1900s and 1910s, hundreds of new companies created cars of varying price and quality in limited numbers. Early automobiles—reflecting the fluid state of the emerging industry—were built with steam, electric, or internal combustion engines. Still, between the 1890s and 1920s, a standard automotive design emerged out of the competition between steam, electric, and internal-combustion cars. Manufacturers chose engines, drive trains, and accessories that they thought would attract buyers or make cars more powerful, cheaper, or easier to operate. The front-engine, shaft-driven internal-combustion car appeared by 1901 and became the norm, particularly after the Ford Motor Company's Model T grabbed a large part of the market share. Steam cars and electric cars fell out of favor and mostly disappeared from the market in the 1920s.
ID Number
TR.312596
accession number
163014
catalog number
312596
Currently on loan
Location
Currently on loan
Date made
1927
through
Wilhite, Sam Y.
maker
Ford Motor Company
ID Number
1984.0831.01
accession number
1984.0831
catalog number
1984.0831.01
Currently on loan
Location
Currently on loan
Date made
1912
maker
Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company
ID Number
TR.326222
catalog number
326222
accession number
255546
Currently on loan
Location
Currently on loan
date made
1897
ID Number
TR.286567
accession number
57967
catalog number
286567
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1979
ID Number
1982.0648.01
accession number
1982.0648
catalog number
1982.0648.01
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1901
ID Number
TR.326221
accession number
255546
catalog number
326221
This 1918 four-door, five-passenger touring car was built by the Olds Motor Works of Lansing, Mich., and originally sold fo $1,185. It is an Oldsmobile Model 37, bearing serial number 153041 and motor number D-3363. This automobile was donated to the museum in April of 1964.
Description
This 1918 four-door, five-passenger touring car was built by the Olds Motor Works of Lansing, Mich., and originally sold fo $1,185. It is an Oldsmobile Model 37, bearing serial number 153041 and motor number D-3363. This automobile was donated to the museum in April of 1964. Robert Maytag, of washing-machine fame, bequeathed three vehicles to the institution, but the Oldsmobile was the only one the museum accepted into its collection. Curator John White declared that the car “represents a more modern vehicle than we presently have on display and would help our theme of development.”
The museum regularly lent this Oldsmobile to the Fort Meyer-based Third Infantry who used it in a number of parades. In 1977, the Museum decided to stop letting the army borrow and drive the vehicle. According to Don Berkebile, the museum's Collections Committee had decided that “lending the car for actual use has set a precedent that could eventually have harmful effects....”
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1918
maker
Olds Motor Works
ID Number
1962.241983.01
catalog number
323569
accession number
241983
Currently not on view
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1929
ID Number
1974.310671.01
accession number
310671
catalog number
334010
This 1972 Volkswagen Model 1131 Super Beetle was the 15-millionth Volkswagen Beetle manufactured, bearing serial number 1,122,500,715. The Super Beetle has a four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, overhead-valve, four-stroke engine, located in the rear of the car.
Description
This 1972 Volkswagen Model 1131 Super Beetle was the 15-millionth Volkswagen Beetle manufactured, bearing serial number 1,122,500,715. The Super Beetle has a four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, overhead-valve, four-stroke engine, located in the rear of the car. Beetles of this type got about 25 miles per gallon and had 11.1-gallon gas tanks. The museum's Volkswagen was unused and had only 16 miles on the odometer when donated.
American firms dominated the U.S. car market from the 1910s through the 1960s. In 1955, the Big Three domestic manufacturers sold 95 percent of the nation's new cars. Still, this dominance masked the beginnings of a change-the rise of the foreign car. Volkswagen (VW) was the first major foreign car maker to get a foothold in the U. S. market. The Beetle began life in Nazi Germany, as the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, who wanted to build a low-priced popular car as a propaganda tool. Despite its unpleasant associations with fascism, millions of people bought VW Beetles after World War II. By 1972, approximately four million "Bugs" had been sold in the United States. By that time, however, Volkswagen was increasingly being surpassed by Japanese car makers: in 1973, U.S. consumers bought more Japanese cars than they did West German makes.
In 1972, the Smithsonian collected the 15-millionth Volkswagen Beetle. According to the letter curator Don Berkebile sent to Volkswagen of America, the Beetle was a significant addition to the collection. He wrote, "Surely the Beetle is the mid-twentieth century equivalent of the famous and beloved Model T Ford, and it has proven once again that an economical car can provide dependable transportation." S. Dillon Ripley, Secretary of the Smithsonian, wrote at the time of the car's acquisition, "though it is a foreign car, it surely is a big factor in today's transportation scene, and therefore fits into our collection." Despite these claims, which were remarkably like the message the company's PR department was disseminating at the time, Volkswagen sales in the U.S. had fallen 16.2 percent in the three years before the museum collected the car.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1972
date made
1972-02
maker
Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.
ID Number
TR.333682
catalog number
333682
accession number
304750
Like Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer Alanson P. Brush encouraged people of ordinary means to give up horses, bicycles, and streetcars and buy cars.
Description
Like Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer Alanson P. Brush encouraged people of ordinary means to give up horses, bicycles, and streetcars and buy cars. Brush emphasized small size and light weight as ways to reduce manufacturing costs and adapt cars to dirt roads that were alternately bumpy in dry weather and muddy in wet weather. Like Ford, he designed an automobile that was low-priced and suited to rural conditions. Introduced in 1907, the Brush automobile had a one-cylinder engine, a hardwood chassis frame, and tough, resilient hardwood axles and wheels. It featured innovations such as coil springs and shock absorbers, which smoothed the ride. The 1912 Liberty-Brush was a simplified version of the Brush runabout and was priced at $350. The Ethyl Corporation donated this Liberty-Brush runabout to the museum in 1976.
In the early 1900s, the automobile became more than a rich person's toy. Demand was strong among farmers, workers, and the middle class. Used cars provided a less expensive alternative to new ones, but problems with quality, reliability, and parts availability limited their appeal. Several car manufacturers introduced new models that were affordable, dependable and designed for everyday use on country roads or city streets. Because of its wooden chassis and wooden axles, the Brush automobile (1907-13) was exceptionally lightweight and resilient. The small, one-cylinder Brush appealed to many motorists because of its simplicity, relatively low price, and chassis features that were well suited to rural roads. Wider axles were available for use in the South, where a 60-inch tread fit wagon ruts on country roads. Brush cars were fairly popular, but the company's financial difficulties and competition from better automobiles brought an end to the venture in 1913.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1912
maker
United States Motor Company, Brush Division
ID Number
TR.335591
catalog number
335591
accession number
323572
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Ford Model A was one of the most publicized and best-selling cars in America. It was sporty, attractive, well-built, and smooth-running compared to the Model T, which it replaced in the 1928 model year.
Description
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Ford Model A was one of the most publicized and best-selling cars in America. It was sporty, attractive, well-built, and smooth-running compared to the Model T, which it replaced in the 1928 model year. Thousands of people were eager to see for themselves that "Henry's made a lady out of Lizzie," and they stormed Ford showrooms when the Model A debuted on December 2, 1927. In less than two weeks there were 400,000 orders, and Henry Ford could not keep up with the demand for his latest "gift" to an increasingly mobile nation. Despite the onset of the Depression, Model A production remained strong at 1,261,053 cars in 1930 but fell to 626,579 cars in 1931, the last year that the Model A was produced. Donald E. Wolff donated this restored 1931 Ford to the Smithsonian in 1974.
In the early 1920s, the plain, utilitarian Ford Model T far outsold other new cars and gave millions of working Americans the advantages of personal mobility. But by the mid-1920s, Ford's market share was shrinking because other automobile manufacturers offered stylish, sophisticated cars at low prices and enticements such as buying on credit. Henry Ford decided to replace the Model T with a new car that would attract as much attention as the "Tin Lizzie" once had. The much-anticipated 1928 Ford Model A was chic and sporty, and it had mechanical features that the Model T lacked: a three-speed, sliding-gear transmission, four-wheel brake system, and hydraulic shock absorbers. Sales were strong, but Ford never again dominated the new-car market as it had at the height of the Model T's popularity; Chevrolet, Plymouth, and other makes proved to be formidable rivals in the 1930s and beyond. In the 1932 model year, Ford replaced the Model A with a new line of cars featuring V-8 engines.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1931
maker
Ford Motor Company
ID Number
TR.335243
catalog number
335243
accession number
315444
The 1914 Chevrolet Royal Mail roadster represents the early years of a make that a decade later would become the low-priced, mass-market leader in General Motors Corporation's varied array of cars.
Description
The 1914 Chevrolet Royal Mail roadster represents the early years of a make that a decade later would become the low-priced, mass-market leader in General Motors Corporation's varied array of cars. In 1914, Chevrolet cars were redesigned to compete with Ford and other makes vying for the low-priced market, which comprised working class and middle-class Americans. The Royal Mail and its larger companion, the Baby Grand touring car, were the first Chevrolet cars priced under $1,000. The Royal Mail body was considered streamlined and attractive. Its four-cylinder engine featured an overhead valve design, a Buick innovation that increased power; the OHV design reappeared on other GM cars during the next several decades. Alton M. Costley, a businessman who owned a Chevrolet dealership near Atlanta, donated this car to the Smithsonian in 1978.
The 1914 Chevrolet Series H roadster, marketed as the Chevrolet Royal Mail, is an open car with a folding top and folding windshield. Like many "streamlined" cars of the day, its styling is smooth and uninterrupted and flows from front to back without projecting hardware or accessories. The gasoline tank is external, but it has a pleasing elliptical shape that complements the body. The hand-cranked engine has four cylinders and an overhead valve design.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1914
maker
Chevrolet Motor Car Company
ID Number
TR.336719
catalog number
336719
accession number
1978.1027
serial number
11505

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