Identical twin brothers Freelan Oscar and Francis Edgar Stanley were one of the first motorcar producers in the United States and one of the more successful in steam powered car production. Freelan Oscar and his wife are credited with being the first individuals to drive an automobile to the top of New Hampshire's Mount Washington on August 31st of 1899. Their Locomobile steam runabout took two hours and ten minutes to climb the slope, excepting the time required to refill the boiler with water. Their journey took about half the time required by a team of horses.
The Stanley brothers had created a successful business in manufacturing photographic plates. When the world was introduced to the motor car, the brothers began to tinker. By the autumn of 1897 they had produced their first motor car, with their automobile business opening in November 1898.
Their cars were shown at the Boston motor show in 1898 but prior to this, John Brisben Walker, publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine, acquired about buying the business. The brothers quickly stated a very high sum of $250,000, which was accepted, to much surprise of the Stanley brothers. The brothers were appointed as General Managers. To aid in the acquisition, Walker took Amzi Lorenzo Barber as partner in this venture. Barber had made a fortune paving America's cities and was known as 'The Asphalt King.' By June of 1899, deliveries of the Locomobiles had begun.
The partnership between Walker and Barber did not last long, and soon the men parted company. Both men went on to establish separate car companies. Barber kept the Locomobile name and moved operations to Massachusetts. He purchased numerous plant sites before finally settling on a plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Production began in early 1901. A year later, over 4,000 Locomobile steam-powered cars had been delivered. Part of the popularity was due to a Locomobile steam-powered racer driven by S.T. Davis Jr. a distance of one mile in just fifteen seconds. Davis Jr., was Barber's son-in-law who had joined the Locomobile company in 1900 as its treasurer. He later became a founder and president of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturer.
In 1903, Davis Jr. took over the company as president, and under his care the companies reputation flourished and given national recognition. This was the same year that the company merged with the Overman Wheel Company. The Overman Wheel Company had been supplying Locomobile with parts and boilers.
It was not long before the Stanley brother's steam-powered car began gaining popularity and providing fierce competition for Locomobile. Locomobile decided to add internal combustion engines beginning in 1903 to their vehicles to diversify the products and to increase sales. By 1905, the Locomobile Company no longer offered a steam powered model and had switched completely to gasoline power.
Locomobile's powerplant was designed by Andrew Lawrence Riker and it would quickly gain a reputation for its durability and power. It was initially a twin-cylinder unit but soon was made into a four-cylinder version featuring automatic inlet valves. As 1905 came into sight, only the T-head four-cylinder models remained.
Locomobile's success in motorsports led them to claim their product was 'Easily the Best Built Car in America.' This claim was backed-up by winning America its first victory in a major international race. In 1908 a Locomobile won the grueling Vanderbilt Cup. The Model I-based number 16 racer was driven by Racer George Robertson. From that day forward, the racer became known as 'Old 16' and instantly became a racing legend.
The Locomobile Type I featured a ladder frame constructed of pressed alloy steel. Artillery wheels created from second-growth, seasoned hickory could be found at all four corners. Power came from the four-cylinder T-head engine which produced 40 horsepower. The engine had cylinders cast-in-pairs and put through rigorous testing before leaving the factory.By Daniel Vaughan | Aug 2010