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Clarke gasoline tricycle
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

In 1897, Louis S. Clarke of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, founded the Pittsburg Motor Vehicle Company with himself as president and engineer, and constructed this experimental motor tricycle. With the experience thus gained, in the following year the company built a 4-wheel automobile, which is now in the Henry Ford Museum. The name of Clarke's firm was changed in 1899 to the Autocar Company--one of the few pioneer automobile companies surviving today.

The tricycle was restored in 1963 by Dale C. Price of Cambridge, Maryland. Some of the original parts have been replaced-the saddle, handlebar grips, spark plug, rear tires, and a relief pipe and valve on the engine's crankcase.

Physical Description

Clarke's 1897 vehicle, which is known as the first Autocar, is a conventional tricycle equipped with a gasoline engine that drives the rear wheels. The frame consists of standard bicycle parts and some special parts designed and made by Clarke.

The 1-cylinder engine has a mechanically operated exhaust valve and an automatic intake valve. On its crankshaft extension is a gear that meshes directly with the ring gear of the differential. No gear changes are provided. A single lever operates both the clutch (located on the crankshaft extension between the engine and the driving gear) and a band brake on the drum of the clutch. There is no throttle, but the engine speed can be varied by means of a spark-advance lever, and there is a fuel-flow regulator on the exhaust-heated, gasoline vaporizer.

The main exhaust pipe leads into a small muffler. The gasoline tank is in the frame beneath the saddle, and the batteries and high-tension coil are in a box farther forward in the frame. Bicycle pedals, with the usual sprockets and chain, enable the rider to start the engine and, in event of a breakdown, to propel the vehicle. An overrunning clutch is built into this gearing so that the pedals are not driven by the engine while the tricycle is in motion.

The front wheel is supported in a steering fork equipped with handlebars. The wire-spoke, bicycle-type wheels carry 26-by-2 1/2-inch single-tube pneumatic tires, and Clarke has stated that the tire on the front wheel is an original.

Date Made:
Maryland, Pennsylvania
Gift of Louis S. Clarke

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