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Illustration of a Brush runabout from an advertising booklet, 1912

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Illustration of a Brush runabout from an advertising booklet, 1912
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1910-1919

Liberty-Brush dealership, about 1910
Liberty-Brush dealership, about 1910

Liberty-Brush automobile
Catalog #: 335,591, Accession #: 323,572
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Like Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer Alanson P. Brush encouraged people of ordinary means to give up horses, bicycles, and streetcars and buy cars. Brush emphasized small size and light weight as ways to reduce manufacturing costs and adapt cars to dirt roads that were alternately bumpy in dry weather and muddy in wet weather. Like Ford, he designed an automobile that was low-priced and suited to rural conditions. Introduced in 1907, the Brush automobile had a one-cylinder engine, a hardwood chassis frame, and tough, resilient hardwood axles and wheels. It featured innovations such as coil springs and shock absorbers, which smoothed the ride. The 1912 Liberty-Brush was a simplified version of the Brush runabout and was priced at $350. The Ethyl Corporation donated this Liberty-Brush runabout to the museum in 1976.

Physical Description

The 1912 Liberty-Brush runabout is a two-seat open car with a folding top. The one-cylinder engine developed ten horsepower. Power is transmitted by chain drive to both rear wheels. Innovative coil springs and shock absorbers suspend the body on the chassis. During a restoration in 1988, the top was recovered with rubber and cotton, and the floor was recovered with linoleum. The seats are upholstered with imitation leather (coated cloth).

Date Made:
Dates Used:
1907 - 1913
Gift of Ethyl Corporation

In the early 1900s, the automobile became more than a rich person's toy. Demand was strong among farmers, workers, and the middle class. Used cars provided a less expensive alternative to new ones, but problems with quality, reliability, and parts availability limited their appeal. Several car manufacturers introduced new models that were affordable, dependable and designed for everyday use on country roads or city streets. Because of its wooden chassis and wooden axles, the Brush automobile (1907-13) was exceptionally lightweight and resilient. The small, one-cylinder Brush appealed to many motorists because of its simplicity, relatively low price, and chassis features that were well suited to rural roads. Wider axles were available for use in the South, where a 60-inch tread fit wagon ruts on country roads. Brush cars were fairly popular, but the company's financial difficulties and competition from better automobiles brought an end to the venture in 1913.

Alanson Brush is chiefly remembered as the designer and manufacturer of the Brush runabout. However, his importance to the early development of the automobile industry rests on his outstanding mechanical work on Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Oakland, Buick, and Marmon cars. He was a highly respected technical innovator and problem solver, although he lacked any formal mechanical training. Brush returned from service in the Spanish-American War in 1899 and began work with the Leland and Falconer Manufacturing Company, perhaps Detroit's best known machine shop. He came to the attention of Henry Leland when he solved critical problems related to engines and transmissions for early Oldsmobiles. After that, his advice was sought by business leaders who had fired Henry Ford and were creating what became General Motors Corporation. The initial product of this association was the very successful Cadillac. Brush was part of the organization of the Cadillac Motor Car Company in 1905 and became its chief engineer, a role that he also played at Buick and Oakland.

Related People, Places, and Events
United States Motor Company, Brush Division

Alanson P. Brush

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