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Tinkerers to Designers

Stanley Twins at Charles River Park

The Stanley twins demonstrate their new steam runabout at Charles River Park, Mass., in November 1898. (Stanley Museum Archives)

With no formal training in engineering, the Stanley brothers perfected their first steam car design through continual experimentation, finally demonstrating their steam-powered runabout before an enthralled crowd at Boston’s Charles River Park in November 1898.  

With orders in hand, they began production but soon withdrew from automaking pursuits, selling their fledgling business in 1899 to John B. Walker and Amzi L. Barber. Walker and Barber renamed it the Locomobile Company, but the partnership quickly dissolved. By year end, Barber and Walker split to form sepa­rate companies, with Barber controlling the Locomo­bile factory while Walker launched the Mobile Company of America.


Advertisements, Cosmopolitan magazine, ca. 1899. (Butch Cannard)

The Stanleys’ first auto business changed hands so quickly that it was hard for the public to keep up. Three Cosmopolitan magazine advertisements of 1899 show the same content under different company names.

1901 Mobile

1901 Mobile
A Car of the Stanley Design

In designing their first automobiles, the Stanleys, like many early auto makers, based their designs on existing transportation models. Carriages provided early inspiration, and many referred to the first automobiles as horseless carriages

This 1901 Mobile features improvements over the Stanleys’ initial 1897 design, including stouter axles, full elliptical carriage springs to enhance suspension, and a pair of wooden poles that connected the axles, referred to as “perch poles” in carriage terminology. The steam engine powered the car using a chain drive, a technology borrowed from bicycle designs of the era and still used today. Originally designated for two, an early owner of this car lengthened the frame and added a front seat for passengers.

Irenee Barbara Lex duPont in Lex's 1901 Mobile Steamer #2

Irénée, Barbara, and Lex du Pont in Lex’s 1901 Mobile Steamer, late 1940s. (Lex du Pont)

1905 Stanley Model CX

1905 Stanley Model CX
Back in Business

After selling their first auto manufacturing endeavor to Locomobile, the Stanley twins officially reentered the automobile business in 1902 with the incorporation of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. To avoid patent infringement, the brothers incorporated a major engine design improvement that distinguished the 1901 Mobile from the Model CX.  

While the engine in the Mobile was vertical and connected to the rear axle via a chain drive, the CX engine was horizontal and mounted below the automobile’s body. A gear on the engine’s crankshaft mated with a gear on the rear axle eliminated the need for the chain tensioner. Despite the engine redesign, which resulted in a slightly larger and more powerful vehicle, the body and chassis, as well as the experience of driving remained the same. 

F.E. Stanley engine patent no. 788,610, 1905.

F.E. Stanley engine patent no. 788,610, 1905. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)