New Britain, CT – “Hartford does not claim to have made the first automobile but does claim to have started the automotive industry,” This statement was made by pioneer auto designer and engineer, Henry Cave, who worked with Daimler Motor Company, Locomobile and with George B. Seldon to design, develop and demonstrate the first Seldon patent car.
The very first Hartford-based company to work in the automobile industry was the National Machine Company in 1891. Located at Capital Ave and Woodbine Street, they made motors for Steinway-Daimler, the engine that established the auto industry in Europe. But five years later in 1895, the Pope Manufacturing Company established the Motor Carriage Department and experimented with gas powered automobiles. Their conclusion was that these cars were very noisy, vibrating, greasy and complicated to operate. They also believed that the wealthiest citizens, the only ones who could afford such a vehicle, would not be interested in such a car.
The Pope Manufacturing Company concentrated their efforts into designing and developing electric engines and in 1897 formally offered to the public the Columbia Electric Phaeton for a price of $3,000. Henry Cave reports, “Under the direction of the production experts, these handsome vehicles were the first to be made in this country on anything like a substantial basis.’ The Hartford Times wrote,” Its cost of maintenance and operation should be much less than that of a pair of horses…never found anyone so stupid that they could not run the carriage but there are many who can’t handle a horse…6 or 8 inches of snow “no obvious obstacle”.
The Hartford Courant wrote under the title, ” HORSELESS ERA COMES”, the electric vehicle was managed and turned about with as much comfort and success as you would have in driving the gentlest horse…The idea of sitting in a rolling carriage, nothing in front of the dashboard but space…is something exhilarating and fascinating.”
The first vehicles made were made under the Columbia name. Pictured here is a Columbia Mark III Stanhope, an advertising post card produced by the Pope Manufacturing Company. The vehicle was quite simple with four bicycle wheels and seating for two. It had a gong (forerunner to the horn) and four electric lights to illuminate the way at night. One of the first well known owners was Andrew Carnegie.
The Klingberg Vintage Motorcar Festival in New Britain, CT on June 20th, 2015, will feature many automobiles manufactured in Connecticut including examples from Pope Hartford, Columbia, Corbin and Locomobile and is in fact the largest gathering of these early “brass era” cars in the country.
Source: Klingberg Vintage Motorcar Festival