THE STANLEY STEAMER


| November/December 1984



Steamer

from 'Old Time Steam Cars' courtesy of Owls Head Transportation Museum

The story of the Stanley Steamer begins with the birth of the Stanley twins, Francis E. and Freeland O. later known simply as 'F.E.' and 'F. 0.'in Kingfield, Maine, on June 1, 1849. As they grew up almost indistinguishable from each other, even to their neatly trimmed beards and manner of dressing, it became apparent that they both had inherited the gift of inventiveness, though its expression took different forms. While 'F.E.' inclined toward the practical and developed into a 'sort of all-around mechanical genius,' twin 'F.O.' discovered academic tendencies and eventually became a schoolteacher. Their early activities included the production of the first commercially manufactured violins in the U.S.; the invention of a home generator for illuminating gas which sold well before the competitive advent of municipal gas works; the first practical manufacture of photographic dry plates when photography was still in its infant stage; and the development of early X-ray equipment.

Of all these, 'F.E.' visualized the greatest profit in photography and with less than $500 started a small dry-plate manufacturing business on his own at Lewiston, Maine, in 1875, at the age of 26. He did so well that in 10 years he managed to save $50,000 and with this joined by brother 'F.O.' who dropped school teaching in 1885started a much larger photographic firm in Newton, Mass., known as the Stanley Bros. Dry Plate Manufacturing Co.

Another prosperous decade went by for the twins who, driven by a restless imagination, began to look around for something else into which to channel their inventive ability. They found it in the first stirrings of a movement toward the commercial production of 'horseless carriages' propelled by steam. The idea finally crystallized in the fall of 1896 when the twins attended the Brockton Falls Fair in Massachusetts, where a 'horseless carriage' was due to perform. The exhibition was disappointing, the car breaking down before it even completed one lap of the course; but here was a challenge, and something prompted 'F.E.' to say: 'Well, boys, before another fall passes I will show you a self-propelled carriage that will go around that track not only once but several times without stopping!'

'F.E.' studied every available design before he came up with a set of specifications that held practical promise. The first Stanley Steamer was not begun until July 6, 1897, and was completed in October of that year. The brothers made no attempt to build their own engine, but secured one best suited to their needs from J.W. Penny & Sons, Mechanic Falls, Mass. Other parts they obtained as required from various outside sources, so that the carriage was more of an assembled than a manufactured job. But the result was amazing.

The steamer performed just as predicted by 'F.E.', making several easy rounds of the Brockton Fair course. The outcome was that the brothers immediately began work on three more steamers of similar design. One of these was sold to John Brisbane Walker of Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1898, who evinced tremendous enthusiasm and in turn sold it to a financier named Amzi L. Barber with the same effect. Seeing a big future in these steamers, Barber and Walker decided to buy out the Stanley brothers.