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1910 Stanley steam automobile

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1910 Stanley steam automobile
From Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, March 1, 1910


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1910-1919

Stanley steam car
Catalog #: 1982.0417.01, Accession #: 1982.0417
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

Perhaps more than any other early automobile, "Stanley steamer" conjures up romantic images of popular though obsolescing vehicle technologies at the turn of the twentieth century. Of three competing forms of automotive power-steam, electricity, and internal combustion-only steam was a well-established power source for long-distance transportation. As the automobile market grew, it was only natural that inventors, tinkerers, and manufacturers adapted steam power for production cars. The Stanley twins, Freelan and Francis, were pioneers of steam car technology and bridged a gap between technological adaptation and commercial production. Fewer than 1,000 Stanley cars were made each year, but the make developed a lasting reputation for power and speed. Stanley cars were entered in many auto races and held impressive records, including a world speed record set in 1906. This car, a 1910 Stanley Model 60 runabout, is a production model and is typical of the company's output.

Physical Description

Green runabout with black trim and yellow wheels. Power plant includes a two-cylinder engine, boiler, burner, throttle, pumps, muffler, and gasoline tank.

Date Made:
Gift of Ruth Dowling Bruun

Several companies, notably White, Stanley, and Locomobile (a Stanley spinoff), built steam-powered automobiles in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In spite of their drawbacks-they were difficult to start and control and they could explode-sales of steam cars were steady, though modest. At its peak, the White Company built 1,534 automobiles in a single year (1906) and ranked seventh among all automobile manufacturers in terms of volume. By the 1910s, internal combustion had become the clear choice of the great majority of motorists. White and Locomobile began building internal-combustion cars, but the Stanley brothers kept tinkering with their steam cars, and their company turned out a small number of hand-crafted cars each year until the mid-1920s. At mid-century, American society developed an almost theatrical consciousness of the automobile's formative years, and the Stanley steamer once again took center stage. Celebrated in song, film, and nostalgia, Stanley steam cars became quaint symbols of a bygone era and the horseless buggy's indirect progression from experiment to manufactured product to everyday necessity. Today collectors, historians, and museums preserve, document, and celebrate the achievements and significance of the Stanley brothers and their cars.

Related People, Places, and Events
Stanley Motor Carriage Company

James Melton
James Melton (1904-61) was a well known antique car collector and a popular tenor. He performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera and in radio, film, and television productions. Melton was an avid collector of automobiles from the “brass era,” so named for the radiator shell, lamps, and horns of 1900-1910 cars. He displayed many of his cars in the James Melton Autorama, a museum near West Palm Beach, Florida. This 1910 Stanley runabout was part of his collection. Melton also introduced the tradition of singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

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