The Pierce-Arrow was a leading luxury nameplate in the early American automobile industry. George Pierce had started by the manufacturing of household items such as iceboxes, bathtubs, and birdcages and later bicycles. He later experimented with automobile production using popular power sources such as steam. A Scottish engineer named David Fergusson was brought in to help with the developmental aspects of engine design and production. The first successful Pierce automobile, a Motorette, was in 1901 and featured a single-cylinder DeDion engine producing nearly 3 horsepower. By 1903 the Pierce automobiles were powered by their own engines that they had designed and manufactured.
In 1903 the Arrow was introduced, powered by a 15 horsepower DeDion engine. The engine was replaced by a Pierce-made engine in 1904.
In 1904 the Great Arrow was introduced powered by a Pierce four-cylinder engine producing 24-28 horsepower. With a price tag of $4000, the Pierce Great Arrow was one of the most expensive vehicles on the market. It featured a 93-inch wheelbase and innovate cast-aluminum body panels. It was a very dependable vehicle, winning five consecutive Glidden Tours. They had achieved perfect scores in four out of the five races. These tours were endurance runs sponsored by Col. Charles Glidden, a man made famous by the telephone industry. These cross-country tours were often 2,000 miles or more. These accomplishments stimulated sales and the company continued to grow.
While most luxury automobile manufacturers relied upon outside coachbuilders, Pierce-Arrow dealt solely with the Aluminum Company of America. This Buffalo, New York based company created cast aluminum body panels using casting techniques that were produced thinner than most in the industry. This allowed the Pierce-Arrows to retain their strength and rigidity but to be low-weight. The designs of the body were created in-house, by the Pierce-Arrow's Art Department. Headed by Herbert Dawley, the designs, colors, materials, and accessories were all designed and fabricated to accommodate the requests and demands of their clientele.
In 1909 the company became known as Pierce-Arrow, the Pierce family sold its interests and left the company. During this same year, the Great Arrow line was discontinued.
The vehicles produced by Pierce-Arrow began to grow in every aspect, such as size, power, price, luxury, and prestige. They were considered by many to be the pinnacle of automotive technology, so much so that President Taft ordered two for the White House.
In 1910 there were three chassis offered by Pierce-Arrow, the 36, 48, and 66. The price ranged for the Model 36 was $3850 through $7200 depending on configuration and coachwork. They were powered by a six-cylinder engine capable of producing 36 horsepower. The Model 66 had a six-cylinder engine with a 5 inch bore and 7 inch stroke. It was capable of producing 60 horsepower. The price ranged from $6,500 through $8,000.
In 1913 electric headlamps were standard on Pierce-Arrows and in 1914 Pierce-Arrow introduced an innovative concept by placing headlamps atop the front fenders. The design was created by Herbert M. Dawley.
The Model 48 featured a 515 cubic-inch T-head six-cylinder capable of producing 48 horsepower. The vehicle was offered in two versions, a 'B' and 'D' which represented the options selected by the buyer. The 48D came equipped with a Disco acetylene self-starting system.
In 1914 the Series 66 received a larger engine, an 824 cubic-inch power-plant.
All Pierce-Arrow automobiles were left-hand drive until the 1920's when they became right-hand drive. The innovative Dual Valve Six was introduced near the close of 1918.
During World War I the company shifted its priorities to the production of military vehicles.
At the end of the War the company went back to producing vehicles. The Series 66 and Series 38 were discontinued, leaving only the Series 48. The Series Five was introduced featuring two intake and two exhaust valves per cylinder.
Near the close of 1920 the Series 32 was introduced. The vehicle received mechanical refinements in 1921 and the name was changed to Series 33. It would remain in production until 1926. During its production life span over 7000 chassis were created ranging in design and consisting of 19 different body styles. The vehicles featured an electric starter motor made by Delco but outfitted with a Pierce-Arrows engine. The 24-valve six-cylinder T-Head power plant had dual-ignition and a one-piece detachable cylinder head. It was capable of producing 85 horsepower, a considerable figure at the time. A three-speed manual transmission was matted to the engine and drove the rear wheels. The suspension was comprised of semi-elliptic leaf springs and solid axles. The cost to own a Series 33 ranged from $5,250 to $8000. In 1924 the Series 80 was introduced as a low-cost alternative to the Series 33. The Series 80's were smaller in size but retained the same quality Pierce-Arrow was famous for building. They became very successful in increasing sales for Pierce-Arrow. In 1928 the Series 81 was introduced.
In 1925, Pierce-Arrow and the Aluminum Company of America, built an aluminum car. Almost ever component of the car was made from the light-weight metal. It was used to create attention at Auto Shows while testing the plausibility of a light-weight vehicle. Little ever evolved from this experiment.
Pierce-Arrow had not focused enough attention on the design and development of new products. Many of the luxury manufacturers such as Marmon, Cadillac, and Lincoln had vehicles powered by V12 and V16 engines. The Pierce-Arrows were still powered by six-cylinder engines. For the 1928 model year the company required financial assistance to stay current. The Studebaker Corporation from South Bend, Indiana came to their rescue and with their new financial freedom; Pierce-Arrow was able to produce a new model line for 1929 powered by a new engine. The engine was a side-valve, inline eight with nine main bearings. The result from the automotive consumers was astonishing, with sales reaching its highest point ever for the company.
The early 1900's were difficult for many automotive manufacturers. Technology and design was continuing to evolve. New ways to create the automobile were invented on a daily basis. Steam, electric, and gasoline engine were being experimented with. A bad year for a company meant they could be out of business. World War I had slowed the development of the automobile and had made it difficult to regain momentum when production began at the end of the War. The Great Depression and stock-market-crash began in 1929 causing another hurtle for the automotive industry to tackle. For manufacturers like Pierce-Arrow who tailored to the upper market segment truly felt the pain. Sales fell to 6,795 units in 1930 and to 4,522 in 1931.
In 1932 Pierce-Arrow improved the Model Eight increasing its appeal in every capacity. A side-valve V-12 was introduced in 1932.
The Silver Arrow was a bold move by Pierce-Arrow. It was introduced to the public at the New York and Chicago auto shows and carried a $10,000 price tag. It had silver paint, vee-shaped grille and retained the famous Pierce-Arrow fender-mounted headlamps. The spare tires were carefully concealed in compartments built into the front fenders. Dual headlights were placed on the fender and the stylish fastback design was extravagant and spectacular. Due to economic turmoil and an astronomical price, only five Silver Arrows were produced.
In 1933, Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker were both feeling the effects of the Depression. Studebaker was forced to sell Pierce-Arrow. The company was again rescued; this time by a group of Buffalo based investors. With this new life provided to Pierce-Arrow they were able to produce an improve model-line-up for 1935 and again in 1937.
The Packard Company was managing to stay afloat by creating a lower-cost line that appealed to a broader market segment and had increased revenue and sales. Pierce-Arrow attempted to mimic their achievement by introducing the low-priced One-Twenty model. The move may have worked if it had been done earlier, and Pierce-Arrow was forced to cease production in 1938. On Friday, May 13th the company was sold at auction.