Updated date:

African American Slave Became First Automobile Maker

Author:

To begin with nothing and make such an impact and contributions to history..

Patterson Advertising

Patterson Advertising

C.R. Patterson Automobile

C.R. Patterson Automobile

The Journey to Freedom

Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery in 1833 on a Virginia Plantation. He and his wife Josephine crossed the Allegheny Mountains, hiked through West Virginia, always aware of the dangers in escaping to the Ohio River, and meeting the Underground Railroad. They settled in Greenfield, Ohio, close to Columbus. It is unclear whether his son Richard made this trip with him or came later.

Charles learned the skills of a blacksmith and found work in carriage making. By 1873 he formed a partnership with another carriage maker, J.P. Lowe, and renamed it the C.R. Patterson Co. Slowly; their company built a reputation of quality work with 35-50 employees. They specialized in simple buggies and closed carriages for doctors and professionals.

C.R. Patterson died in 1900, and his son Richard took over the company. Richard was educated at Ohio University and was the first African American to play football for Ohio State. He became a member and vice president of the National Negro Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington. Smart enough to see the writing on the wall of buggies being replaced by horseless carriages. The company started to offer repairs and restorations, allowing the employees to gain hands-on knowledge about horseless carriages.

Frederick believed in advertising and placed his first ad in 1913. They were always offering the best quality and workmanship and improvements to the electrical and mechanical systems. Patents were issued to the company for the following methods: U.S. Patent #364,840 in 1887, a trill coupling, U.S. Patent #452,940 for furniture casters in 1891, U.S. Patent#803,256 for a vehicle dash, U.S. Patent #983,992 for a buggy top.

In 1902, there was one car to 65,000 people, but by the year 1909, the ratio was one car to 800 people.

Patterson Carriage

Patterson Carriage

african-american-slave-became-first-automobile-maker
Patterson Closed Carriage

Patterson Closed Carriage

Patterson First Automobile

Now with the company's experience, they took the next step and made history. In 1915, the Patterson Automobile was offered for $685. Orders started pouring in, and the company joined the ranks of the American Auto Industry. Several models of coupes and sedans were offered to feature a 30 hp Continental, four cyl. engine, full rear axle, springs, and electric starting and lighting.

Unfortunately, hope and optimism were short-lived. Small independent shops featuring hand-built, high-quality autos could not compete against the car companies out of Detroit. The big companies were able to buy parts and supplies at reduced rates by buying in bulk. The labor was also reduced by assembly-line production versus hand-built reducing the profit margin. In 1918 the company had built 30-150 and halted production to return to repairs, but in 1920 they started building trucks and buses onto bodies of chassis made by other manufactures.

The biggest hurdle came with the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. Many, many small businesses dried up, and loans were hard to get. The company carried on until 1939 after 74 years, when they were forced to close their doors.

Today, no Patterson-Greenfield autos are known to survive, but the Pattersons were the African American entrepreneurs to earn a special place in history. What an accomplishment for the Patterson family. They are buried in the Greenfield Cemetery, Greenfield, Ohio.

african-american-slave-became-first-automobile-maker
Patterson Bus

Patterson Bus

Patterson Marker

Patterson Marker

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on September 22, 2020:

Thanks so much for reading. I will definitely check out the descendants. Thanks again.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 22, 2020:

An excellent and illuminating article. I wonder what happened to his heirs? It would be interesting to know about them.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on September 22, 2020:

Thanks so much for reading. Each day I realize how much I can still learn about history.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 21, 2020:

Thanks for sharing the interesting facts, Fran. I've never head of C.R. Patterson or his company before. I'm glad I've learned about them.

Rosina S Khan on September 21, 2020:

C.R. Patterson's son was really talented to have made the first automobile. He has made it in history and that's what really counts. Good article, Fran.