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.
White turned out 719 steam powered model Ds and one, outlined with electric lights, was suspended from the ceiling at the Cleveland Automobile Show in 1904. White gave out white carnations and hat pins shaped like the little 1904 White Model D to all female visitors to the show.
By 1906 the sewing machine company and automaking department had become separate, with Rollin and Windsor White incharge of the automobile production. A few years later, in 1910, the White Company began producing gasoline-powered cars. There business was 50 percent steam and 50 percent gasoline production. The following year would be the final year of steamer production and by 1912 the White Company was only producing gasoline-powered vehicle. During its eleven years of producing steam powered vehicles, 9,122 examples were produced.
In 1912 the controls of the White automobile shifted from the right-hand side to the left. Much experimentation followed with the gasoline engine. By 1912 the company was using a variety of four and six-cylinder engine to power its machines. The majority of the vehicles used the four-cylinder with a total of 432 examples being powered by the sixes.
In 19114 Thomas White passed away; that same year Rollin severed his ties with the company. Windsor White became president and Walter White was elected as vice-president. After this reorganization, the company officially became known as the White Motor Company in 1915.
Leon Rubay was hired in 1915 to head the Pleasure Vehicle Department. Rubay was a prominent auto body manufacturer who had a profound effect on the White vehicles creating superior styling and body work for the White passenger cars. Rubay stayed with the company for only a year but his influences were profound. After Rubay's departure he created his own manufacturing company which White continued to use to body thier most luxurious automobiles.
The trucks that were built by White were used during World War One. Prior to the Russian Revolution, the Czarist purchased a fleet of White trucks, which came to be known as 'the White Squadron'. After 1918 White abandoned car production and focused solely on trucks. The company had produced 8,927 examples of gasoline powered cars. The company continued to produce trucks becoming on of the largest producers in America. In 1980 they went bankrupt and were later absorbed into Volvo/GMC, later Volvo North America.