The Charles Richard 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.
In 1873 Mr. Patterson went into partnership with a white man, J. P. Lowe. Patterson assumed sole ownership a decade later upon the death of his partner. The 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.
The Patterson 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.”
The 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 about $850.
While entering the competitive world of auto manufacturing, the Patterson Co. continued to turn out wagons and advertise for farm repair work.
Few automobiles were manufactured. Production estimates range from 30 to about 150 cars.
Apparently 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.
The 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.
For a 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.
The 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.