The White Brothers Make a Run at Steam Car

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Advertisement for the White Sewing Machine Company 1905 Model steam-powered car.

In about 1900, the sons of industrialist Thomas H. White (Thomas II, Rollin, Windsor, Clarence and Walter), of White Sewing Machine Company fame, decided to invent a car.

The first White steam cars were chain-driven and tiller-steered, and had wire wheels and a 2-cylinder engine mounted under the floorboards. They were immediately successful: Four entered in a 1901 New York-to-Buffalo endurance run earned first-class certificates for perfect scores.

The White was catapulted into national prominence in 1905 when Jay Webb, driving a White steam car dubbed “Whistling Billy,” set an international speed record of 73.95 mph in a 1-mile course. The White was the only automobile in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1905, and a year later, Roosevelt became the first U.S. president to drive a car – a White.

Rollin White was determined to build automobiles. His concept was to build tractors and automobiles under one roof, manufacturing Cleveland tractors and Zeder autos. When that deal fell through, he built his own passenger car. Early automobile prototypes out of his factory, wrote Beverly Rae Kimes in Standard Catalog of American Cars, “wore Cletrac emblems, but well before production began the decision was made to use the first name of the man whose idea the car was.” Rollin Motors Company was organized in May 1923, with Rollin as chairman of the board. The company ceased operations in November 1925. FC

Read more about the White Sewing Machine Company and the White family: “Cleveland Tractor Company: Ohio Family Starts and Ends with Cletrac.”

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail:

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