Locomobile Company of America

The Locomobile Company of America was a pioneering American automobile manufacturer founded in 1899, and known for its dedication to precision in the pre-assembly-line era.[1] It was one of the earliest car manufacturers in the advent of the automobile age. For the first two years after its founding, the company was located in Watertown, Massachusetts. Production was transferred to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1900, where it remained until the company's demise in 1929. The company manufactured affordable, small steam cars until 1903, when production switched entirely to internal combustion-powered luxury automobiles. Locomobile was taken over in 1922 by Durant Motors and eventually went out of business in 1929. All cars ever produced by the original company were always sold under the brand name Locomobile.

Locomobile Company of America
marque used until 1929
SuccessorDurant Motors
HeadquartersBridgeport, Connecticut, United States
Key people
John Brisben Walker,
Amzi L. Barber,
Francis Edgar Stanley and
Freelan O. Stanley
OwnerDurant Motors 


The Locomobile Company of America was founded in 1899, the name coined from locomotive and automobile. John B. Walker, editor and publisher of the Cosmopolitan magazine, bought the plans for an early steam-powered vehicle produced by Francis and Freelan Stanley for a price they could not resist, US$$250,000 (equivalent to $7,529,000 in 2018). At the time, one car had been built, and 199 more had been ordered. Walker promptly sold half of his interest to paving contractor Amzi L. Barber. Walker and Barber's partnership lasted two weeks. Walker went on to found Mobile Company of America at the Stanley works in Tarrytown, New York, while Barber moved house to Bridgeport, Connecticut, as Locomobile where the Stanley twins were named general managers.[2] The Stanley twins founded the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1902, becoming the sharpest rival to Locomobile.[3]:853

Locomobile began by producing steam cars. The steam Locomobiles were unreliable, finicky to operate, prone to kerosene fires, had small water tanks (getting only 20 mi (32 km) per tank), and took time to raise steam; author Rudyard Kipling described one example as a "nickel-plated fraud".[2]:1207 Initially, they were offered with a single body style only, an inexpensive runabout at $600[3]:852 (equivalent to $18,070 in 2018). Nevertheless, they were a curiosity and middle-class Americans clamoured for the latest technology. Salesmen, doctors, and people needing quick mobility found them useful. More than 4,000 were built between 1899 and 1902.[2]:1207

In 1901, Locomobile offered seven body styles at prices between $600 (equivalent to $18,070 in 2018) and $1,400 (equivalent to $42,162 in 2018). Most Locomobiles had simple twin-cylinder engines (3x4 in, 76.2x102 mm; 57 in3, 927 cm3) and a wire-wrapped 300-psi boiler, and burned the liquid fuel naphtha to create steam. Typical of the product was the 1904 Runabout, which seated two passengers and sold for $750[3]:854 (equivalent to $20,914 in 2018). The two-cylinder steam engine was situated amidships of the wood-framed car. By now, the car had improved boilers and a new water pump, manufactured by the Overman Wheel Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. This company itself built the Victor Steamer.[3]:1453

During the Boer War, Locomobile did establish a new mark of sorts, becoming the first ever automobile to be used in war; it was a generator and searchlight tractor and catering vehicle, with the useful ability (in British eyes, at least) of being able to brew a cup of tea by tapping the boiler.[2]:1208

This was, unfortunately, not a sure way to guarantee commercial success, even in Britain, and Locomobile started experimenting with gasoline internal combustion engines in 1902, starting with a four-cylinder steel-chassis model designed by Andrew L. Riker. This encouraged the firm to drop steam vehicles the following year, selling the Stanley brothers back their rights for $20,000.[2]:1208

Switch to internal combustion engines

The 1904 internal combustion Locomobile Touring Car had a tonneau, space for five passengers, and sold for $4500, quite a change from the low-priced steam buggies. The front-mounted, vertical, water-cooled straight-4 engine produced 16 hp (12 kW). A three-speed sliding transmission was fitted, as on the Système Panhard cars with which it competed. The angle steel-framed car weighed 2,200 lb (1,000 kg).

Like other early marques, Locomobile entered motor racing, contesting the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup with a 17.7-litre (1,080 in3) racer; after suffering a transmission gear failure, and with no spare available, driver Joe Tracy only managed two circuits of Auvergne before the transmission packed up entirely. Tracy did better for the company at the Vanderbilt Cup, placing third.[2]:1208 A 90 hp (67 kW) 16.2-litre (990 in3) F-head was damaged by tire trouble, so Tracy failed again in the 1906 Vanderbilt, but in 1908, George Robertson (wearing #16) took the win in this car, ahead of fellow Locomobile pilot Joe Florida in third, becoming the first United States-built car to win in international competition. This would be the high-water mark for Locomobile racing, and they soon faded from the scene, though Orin Davis did score a win in the Los AngelesPhoenix rally in 1913.[2]:1209

On the strength of this, Locomobile soon became known for well-built and speedy luxury cars. The 1908 Locomobile 40 Runabout was a 60 hp (45 kW) two-seater and sold for $4,750 (equivalent to $132,455 in 2018).

Model 48 and the Durant years

The most important model for the marque became the impressive Model 48. Introduced in 1919, it had a very conservative, perhaps dated, concept. It had a conventional but huge chassis with a wheelbase of 142 in. Its engine was a straight-six with side valves; cylinders were still cast in pairs and it featured a nonremovable cylinder head. Displacement was 525 in3, giving it a 48.6-hp tax rating by North American Chamber of Commerce. Quality of materials and workmanship were impeccable and among the best in the world. Such was its pricing: A typical open-body cost about $10,000 when the average Model T Ford Phaeton cost about $300.

In July 1922[4], Locomobile was acquired by Durant Motors, which not only continued using the Locomobile brand name for their top-of-the-line autos until 1929, but also still produced the Model 48 until its demise in 1929. Until the mid-1920s, this car was Locomobile's only offering. In 1925, the marque brought out their first new model, the 8-66 Junior Eight, with a more contemporary straight eight-cylinder engine, and more importantly, a lower price of $1,785.

Introduction of the even smaller Junior Six was in 1926, but this car stayed only for one model year. The larger Model 90 that appeared in the same year was produced until 1929.

With the 8-70, Locomobile added one more eight-cylinder car. In the following year, the Junior Eight 8-66 was phased out.

For 1929, a new 8-86 and 8-88 came out, but it was too late to save the company. Locomobile production ended in 1929.

Locomobile model specifications

Locomobiles in fiction

A Locomobile is the setting for one of the final scenes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, in which the protagonist, Amory Blaine, argues for socialism to the father of a college friend, who staunchly defends the capitalist ideal.

In the spring and summer of 1946, a seven-passenger 1911 Locomobile touring car was driven from Boston to Los Angeles and back as a promotional tour for the Columbia Pictures film Gallant Journey. While not appearing in the movie, the Locomobile attracted much attention for the picture on the tour.

In Thomas Savage's 1967 novel The Power of the Dog, set in the 1920s, the Locomobile is esteemed by protagonist Peter Johnson as a peer to the Pierce-Arrow: "... Those were the vehicles of the high and mighty, and he knew that only the Locomobile (fancied by old General Pershing, among others) rivaled the Pierce."

Clive Cussler's 2007 novel, The Chase, as well as the 2010 novel The Spy, featured a 1906 Locomobile.

In Dashiell Hammett's 1925 mystery story "Scorched Face", the rich girls for whom the Continental Op is looking, were driving a Locomobile "with a special cabriolet body" when they disappeared.

Papa LaBas from Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo drives a Locomobile.

The Locomobile is central to the 2015 historical novel by Lisa Begin-Kruysman titled Around the World in 1909: Harriet White Fisher and Her Locomobile. The novel is based on Harriet White Fisher's circumnavigation of the globe: the Locomobile is driven, hauled, pushed and floated in places where no man, let alone woman, had yet explored, certainly not on wheels.

See also


  1. Evans, Steve. "Impeccably refined Locomobile". The ClassicCars.com Journal. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  2. Wise, David B. (1974). "British Steam-Car Pioneers". In Tom, Northey (ed.). World of Automobiles. 11. London: Orbis Publishing. p. 1207.
  3. Clark, Henry Austin, Jr. (1985). Beverly Rae, Kimes (ed.). The Standard Catalogue of American Cars 1805–1942 (2nd ed.). Krause Publications. ISBN 0-87341-111-0.
  4. "Locomobile and Durant Feature Active Trading". Detroit Free Press. 25 July 1922.

Further reading

  • Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (January 1904)
  • "Bridgeport Working: Voices from the 20th Century". bridgeporthistory.org. Bridgeport Public Library. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25.
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae (2005). Society of Automotive Engineers Permissions, (ed.). Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America. Warrendale, Pennsylvania. ISBN 0-7680-1431-X.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  • Ball, Donald L. The Genealogy of the Locomobile Steam Carriage, 1899–1904, 1994
  • Harte, Bret (September 1902). "Advertisement: Recent Awards For The Locomobile". Overland Monthly, and Out West Magazine. XL (3). Retrieved 2009-08-15.

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