Posted on 07/16/2013

Photo taken on May  1, 1920

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African American Man
Charles R Patterson
Former Slave
Family owned and operated business

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Photo replaced on July 18, 2013
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Charles Richard Patterson

Charles Richard Patterson
The C.R. Patterson & Son Carriage Company of Greenfield, Ohio became the nation's, and the world's, first and only African-American founded and owned automobile manufacturing company.

Greenfield holds a special place in the annals of automobile manufacturing, thanks to an ex-slave and his family. During the early part of the 20th century, the Greene Countrie Towne was home to the only black-owned and operated automobile manufacturing enterprise known to have existed.

The head of this remarkable family was Charles (Rich) Patterson. He was born a slave on a West Virginia plantation and learned black­smithing skills that would prove useful through-out his life.

Some details about C.R. Patterson's early life have been lost in the midst of time. One writer reports that Patterson escaped to freedom shortly before the Civil War by hiking over the Allegheny Mountains and swimming the Ohio River. Another chronicler states that Patterson settled in Greenfield in 1865 but makes no mention of a dramatic escape. In any event, Patterson quickly established a reputation as a fine blacksmith.

In 1873 he went into partnership with a white man, J.P. Lowe. Patterson assumed sole own­ership a decade later upon the death of his part­ner.

The C.R. Patterson Co. turned out 28 differ­ent types of horse-drawn vehicles. The product line included buggies, backboards, phaetons, rockaways and surreys — the era's most popu­lar wagons.

Patterson and his wife, the former Josephine Qutz, were the parents of four children: Kathe­rine, Dollie, Frederick Douglass, and Samuel. It was Fred who helped guide the company into the automobile age in the early 20th century.

Conflicting information has been published concerning the debut of the Patterson car, also known as the Greenfield touring car. One re-port states that the company was making cars in 1902, while another writer states that the Pat­terson-Greenfield made its debut on Sept. 23, 1915.

In any case, the touring cars and roadsters were said to be mechanically superior to the "Tin Lizzie" Model T produced by Henry Ford. Special features advertised by the firm included full floating rear axle, cantilever spring, de-mountable rims, left-hand drive, center control, electric starting and lighting system, one-man top, and ventilating windshield. "Our special motor has that surplus power and greatest pull," an ad boasted. "Try it on your test hill."

The autos were powered by four-cylinder Continental engines and were said to be ca­pable of speeds of 50 mph. Both Patterson models were priced at about $850.

While entering the competitive world of auto manufacturing, the Patterson Co. continued to turn out wagons and advertise for farm repair work. Few automobiles were manufactured. Production estimates range from 30 to about 150 cars.

Apparently there was a better market for cus­tom-bodied vehicles, as Fred Patterson decided to cease production of the cars and concentrate his efforts on such products as buses, hearses, moving vans, and trucks for hauling ice, milk and baked goods.

The buses and trucks had wood framing with metal skins. They were mounted on Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet chassis until the company shifted to an all-steel body around 1930.

For a time this strategy proved quite success­ful. Patterson buses were the first to travel the streets of Cincinnati, and other vehicles were shipped as far away as Haiti. The Patterson Co. was one of the first to manufacture two-wheeled trailers in the mid-1930's.

The combination of Detroit's mass production and the Depression dealt a fatal blow to the company in the 1930's. Unable to raise suffi­cient operating capital in Greenfield, the family accepted an offer to relocate in Gallipolis. The firm changed its name to the Gallia Body Co. and operated there for about a year before lack of financial support and a shortage of experi­enced workers caused the firm to cease opera­tions.

Only in recent years has the Patterson family received much notice for its remarkable achievements in the manufacture of motorized vehicles. An exhibit in Philadelphia and a salute during Black History Month a few years ago have helped alert others to the remarkable ac­complishments of former slave C.R. Patterson and his son, Fred.

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