The Stanley Steamer

The steam-powered Stanley Steamer held America's attention — briefly.


| June 2014



the Stanley Steamer twins

A photo of the Stanley twins in one of their first cars.

Photo courtesy Sam Moore

Photos of a 2-cylinder engine belonging to Eugene McMillan appeared in the February 2014 issue of Farm Collector. That engine, which I believe is from a Stanley steam car, triggered this story.

Two early manufacturers of horseless carriages — Ransome E. Olds and Henry Ford — built steam-powered cars before switching to gasoline engines. The May 21, 1892, issue of Scientific American quoted Olds as saying about his steam car, “It never kicks or bites, never tires on long runs and never sweats in hot weather. It does not require care in the stable and only eats while on the road.”

The first automobile show in the country was held in November 1900 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Of the 34 makes on exhibit at the show, 19 were gas, six electric, two gas/electric and seven steam-powered. According to vintage car historian Floyd Clymer, at one time or another 124 makes of steam autos were manufactured in the U.S.

Steam had advantages — smooth, quiet operation without a transmission or gear changes, lots of power and fast acceleration — as well the disadvantage of needing lots of water and taking 10 minutes or so to get the burner lit and steam up.

The more successful early steam cars bore such nameplates as Doble, Locomobile, Ross, Stanley, and White, with one of the most famous being the Stanley Steamer. The story of it, and the Stanley brothers who built it, is fascinating.

Doubly ingenious

Francis E. and Freelan O. Stanley were born in Maine, but by the late 1800s were living in Newton, Mass. F.E. and F.O. were identical twins and all their lives they dressed, cut their hair and trimmed their beards alike. Folks who knew them well said they thought alike as well, and that the only way to tell them apart was to tell a funny joke. Seems both would laugh and slap their thighs, but F.E. would exclaim, “Godfrey mighty!” while F.O. would cry, “Gee cracky!”