J.I. Case Co. Keeps Fast Company

Unknown to many people, the J.I. Case Co. competed in automobile racing in the early decades of the 20th century.

  • Lewis Strang in 1908 at the wheel of a Renault race car.
    Photo by the Farm Collector staff
  • An advertising poster for Case race cars.
    Photo by the Farm Collector staff
  • Louis Disbrow in Jay-Eye-Cee in 1912. Look at the size of those exhaust headers; no back-pressure there.
    Henry Sturmey, H. Walter Staner
  • The radiator ornament and Eagle badge of a 1920 Case touring car.
    Photo by the Farm Collector staff
  • Front-quarter shot of an original condition 1922 Case touring car.
    Photo by the Farm Collector staff
  • Rear-quarter shot of the car shown in Photo 1.
    Photo by the Farm Collector staff

The J.I. Case Co. is well known among Farm Collector readers for its high quality steam traction engines and threshers, sturdy cross-motor gas tractors and its reliable line of flambeau red tractors and machinery.

Most folks also are aware that Case built automobiles in the early 20th century, but surely the staid old J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. never took a flyer at racing cars, the sport of the rich? Actually, most early auto manufacturers did field racing teams, as it was considered to be great advertising for their machines – provided that their cars won races, of course.

Case had a very early experience with a self-propelled road vehicle, predating its first steam traction engine by several years. In either 1871 or 1873, a steam-powered buggy was built in Racine, Wisconsin.

One account has it that a Methodist minister, the Rev. John W. Carhart, and his brother, physics professor H.S. Carhart, built the vehicle with the help of J.I. Case Co. The Racine newspaper reported that the machine was built during the winter of 1872-73 by Carhart and financed by wealthy Racine lumberman George W. Slauson.

The auto buggy, possibly the first such vehicle built in the U.S., and certainly the first in Wisconsin, was said to be powered by two identical 1 hp Case-built steam engines, one for each drive wheel, while the vertical boiler was built by Button Steam Fire Engine Co., Watertown, New York.

The machine, named the “Spark,” weighed 600 pounds and ran at 5 mph, or at least did until it was banned by Racine city officials after spooking one too many horses. At the 1908 International Automobile Exposition in Paris, Carhart was named the “Father of Automobiles” and given a cash award as well as a certificate of honor.


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