In the early days of automobile production, there were three main power sources to drive the vehicle: gasoline, electricity, and steam. All three had 'pros' and 'cons', with gasoline eventually becoming the more popular around 1914. During the late 1890's and early 1900s, it was unclear which would have become the dominate source. Gasoline was smelly, noisy, and was difficult to start, though it was the most powerful. Electricity was the popular choice for city driving, especially with doctors and ladies. It was quiet and clean but it had limited distance that it could travel and replenishing its power took time. Steam was quiet and clean but it had its draw-backs. The vehicles produced a lot of heat, and it took a while to produce the steam. This meant that the driver often had to wait 30 minutes or more for the vehicle to be ready to drive.
Water was inserted into a boiler and then heated from either gasoline or kerosene. The steam was then sent to the cylinders causing pressure which drove the pistons. The steam was condensed, changing the steam back into a liquid form. The water was then reused.
Rollin White of the White Sewing Machine Company in Cleveland was a strong believer in the future of steam powered automobiles. He created an engine that was easy to operate and durable. In 1899 he patented his 'semi-flash boiler' which provided safety features which were revolutionary at the time. Boilers were often prone to explosion, but with Rollin's design, these problems were virtually non-existent. Other steamers heated the water in the upper coils but Rollins allowed the water to be heated in the lower coils. This meant that the generator was able to produce steam quicker and safer.
By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2008
This 1902 White Model B is a two-seat Stanhope which carried a factory price of $1200. During 1902, the White Company produced 385 steamers. It sat atop of a 72-inch wheelbase and its steering was by tiller. The wire wheels were small and narrow and the canopy top provided little protection for its passengers from the elements. It had a 2-cylinder 49.3 cubic-inch engine produced 6 horsepower and could carry the carriage to a top speed of 30 miles per hour. Directly under the foot-board was the 8 gallon fuel tank which meant the car could travel about 75 to 100 miles before requiring refueling. Though it could travel this distance just on fuel, the 20-gallon water tank was only good for 25 to 35 miles before requiring replenishing.