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1901 Pierce Motorette

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1901 Pierce Motorette
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 61345


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1900-1909


Pierce Motorette
Catalog #: 326,221, Accession #: 255,546
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection
The museum's 1901 Motorette was acquired in 1965, along with the 1912 Pierce-Arrow. Both were a bequest of Arthur V. Lyons.
Physical Description

This automobile has a 3-horsepower De Dion Bouton single-cylinder, water-cooled engine bearing the number 3008. The engine lies just forward of the rear axle. A horizontal, finned-tube radiator is located under the front part of the body. In operation, the water circulated from the radiator to the engine, then to a tank on the body above the engine, then back to the radiator. A float-equipped carburetor received gasoline from a tank under the seat and arm air from a duct running through the center of the water tank. Also under the seat is a small oil tank equipped with a hand pump which forced oil to the engine. A chain connects the engine to a starting crank in front of the right wheel. Controls consist of four small levers, located on the steering column, and two pedals. The largest of the levers places the transmission in high hear when it is put to the left and in low gear when it is moved to the right. The small lever to the left is the spark control and the other two levers are carburetor controls. The right pedal operates the external contracting brakes on the small rear-wheel drums, the other pedal operates the reversing mechanism. The ignition switch is on the front of the seat framing. The body rests on four elliptic springs. The frame is tubular. Behind the dash is a package or tool compartment. These automobiles only had two speeds as standard equipment.

Date Made:
New York
Bequest of Arthur V. Lyons

The George N. Pierce Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., was formed in 1872 and began building automobiles in 1901. (The company started as the Heintz, Pierce, and Munschauer firms in the 1860s, making household products, including birdcages.) Its first cars were called Motorettes. In September 1901, a Motorette completed the 465-mile New York to Buffalo endurance run with an actual running time that averaged a little over 12 miles an hour. Pierce continued to make a modified version of the Motorette until 1906.

The company really became famous, however, for luxurious, high-powered vehicles, including a make called the Arrow. Pierce changed its name to Pierce-Arrow after that make took off, and the name came to symbolize luxury and elegance, in part because the company hired many of the nation’s top illustrators to create artistic advertisements for its products. After some difficult years, the company went out of business in 1938. In May 1938, the Chicago Daily Tribune noted the company’s passing when it reported, “Pierce-Arrow, a motor car which for more than thirty years was ranked in the top flight of American automobiles, dropped from the roll call last month when a court order directed the company to liquidate.”

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