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 mid-1900, four White steam cars had been created, with a truck following a year later. The steam powered White cars proved to be very popular, and for 1901, a total of 193 units had been built.
White, like many manufacturers of the time, did all they could to promote their cars durability and capability. One of the best means was by entering the car endurance runs. White entered four Whites in the 1901 New York to Buffalo Enduran Run. Each were awarded a first-class certificate.
The early White automobiles had tiller-steering, chain-drive, wire-wheels, and Stanhope bodies. The two-cylinder engine was mounted under the floor, giving them a 'buggy' appearance. This style would continue for a few years, until 1903, when the engine was moved to the front and fitted under a hood known as the 'White curve'. This style would stay with the White cars until the company's end.
In 1902, a condenser was added to recycle exhaust steam. A White, nicknamed the Whistling Billy, was driven by Webb Jay to a world's mile record of 73.75 mph at Morris Park Track in July of 1903. This accomplishment did much for the credibility of the White vehicles.
For 1903, there were 502 White cars produced. For 1905, production rose to 1015 units. The following year, 1534 examples were made. This would be White's best year and would be nearly double the amount of vehicles produced by their next closest Steam competitor, Stanley.
Production of the White Steamers would continue until January of 1911. The following year, a 60 horsepower, six-cylinder gasoline car was added to the lineup of four-cylinder gasoline White cars. White had begun gasoline production in 1910 with shaft drive and a four-speed transmission fitted as standard equipment.
Near the close of the 1910s, the White Company would cease production of passenger's cars. By this point in history, Rollin White had left to form the Rollin car. The White Company was reorganized as the White Motor Company in 1915 with Windsor White remaining as the company's president. Walter White was now the vice-president. While passenger car production ended, the company focused its efforts on commercial vehicles.By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2009