Tag Archives: John W. Lambert

Haynes America’s First Car

In 1912, the Haynes Automobile Company began using the trademark and slogan “Haynes: America’s First Car” to remind the public of the historical significance of their product. This slogan upset some of the other early auto pioneers who questioned the legitimacy of the claim. Let’s look at some of the thinking behind this claim.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

The Haynes advertising department stretched the point by using 1893 as the date for the beginning of the Haynes “Pioneer.” This was when Elwood Haynes purchased the Sintz gasoline engine at the Chicago World’s Fair and began experimenting and planning his automobile. He demonstrated the car on July 4, 1894, along Pumpkinvine Pike on the outskirts of Kokomo.

The claim was based on the grounds that the 1893 Duryea was only a motorized buggy and the Haynes Pioneer was built from the ground up as a self-propelled vehicle.

It is also reported that Elwood Haynes formulated an agreement with John W. Lambert who demonstrated America’s first successful automobile in January 1891, in Ohio City, Ohio, just across Indiana’s eastern border. Lambert was unable to generate sufficient sales for this early vehicle and didn’t challenge the claim.

1914 Haynes Model 28 Touring Car
1914 Haynes Model 28 Touring Car

The Haynes Automobile Company advertised in a number of national magazines and newspapers. The company sponsored a double-page advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on July 1, 1913, when the two Haynes autos departed on the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers’ Association – Indiana to Pacific tour. The Haynes’ were part of the 18 automobiles and two trucks who participated in the tour from Indianapolis to Los Angeles to demonstrate that Indiana-built autos had the stamina to make a cross country trip.

That’s the story behind the trademark and slogan “Haynes: America’s First Car.”

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Who developed the first automobile in America?

Who developed the first automobile in America? It’s a question that has been discussed thoroughly. Although a group of native Hoosiers and long-time Indiana residents lay claim to that title, most historians agree that the auto in America emerged naturally as the requisite technology developed. It was probably developed concurrently by individuals who were working independently on developing the “horseless carriage.” Suitable internal combustion gasoline engines were not available in the United States until the late 1880’s or early 1890’s.

1895 Duryea
1895 Duryea

But when historians must name a title holder, generally they point to J. Frank and Charles E. Duryea. By Frank’s account they produced their first operable machine in Springfield, Massachusetts. A contemporary story in the town’s newspaper The Republican, September 22, 1893, confirms the initial, rather disappointing test run.

They went on to win the first American automobile race, the Chicago Times-Herald Race on November 29, 1895. In 1896, they used the same design to manufacture, which is accepted as the start of the commercial auto industry in America. Their Duryea Motor Wagon Company failed in 1898.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

It is a well-known fact that Elwood Haynes of Kokomo successfully demonstrated his “Pioneer” automobile along Pumpkinvine Pike on July 4, 1894. This run preceded commercial production of Haynes-Apperson automobiles by two years. With the failure of the Duryea firm, Haynes was recognized as the proprietor and inventive genius behind the oldest automobile company in America.

1891 Lambert
1891 Lambert

An 1960 atricle in Antique Automobile, and an entry in Encyclopedia Brittanica credited John W. Lambert with building America’s first successful automobile in 1891 while he was a resident of Ohio City, Ohio (just across the state line, south east of Decatur, Indiana). This predated both the Duryea and Haynes claims of the first American auto. Lambert may not have pressed his claim because he felt, that although extremely successful mechanically, it was a financial failure because he was unable to generate sufficient sales to build it.

So, please don’t shoot the messenger. We aren’t choosing favorites.

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Was Lambert first?

When most historians answer the question who built the America’s first successful gasoline automobile, they usually point to the Duryea brothers’ machine which was demonstrated in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 22, 1893. This citation overlooks the fact that John W. Lambert demonstrated and attempted to market his vehicle in the summer of 1891.

A 1960 article in Antique Automobile and an entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica credited former Indiana resident John W. Lambert with building America’s first successful automobile in January 1891. At the time, Lambert was a resident of Ohio City, Ohio, which is just across the state line.

1891 Lambert
1891 Lambert

This event predated both Duryea’s and Haynes’ claims of being first. Lambert may not have pressed his claim because he felt that, although extremely successful mechanically, it was a financial failure. He was unable to generate sufficient sales for more.

The 1891 Lambert was a three-wheel vehicle with a one-cylinder gas engine, a carburetor, and a drive system of his own design. By 1892, Lambert improved his one-cylinder engine. He then joined his father and brother in Union City, Ohio, to manufacture stationary gas engines.

1910 Lambert Touring
1910 Lambert Touring

In 1894, Lambert moved to Anderson to oversee their expanded operations of the newly named Buckeye Manufacturing Company. After attending the Chicago Times Herald Race in 1895, he returned home with a renewed desire to manufacture an automobile. By 1898, he fitted the Buckeye engine to a four-wheel buggy and operated it with success. That year also saw another Lambert innovation—the friction-drive transmission.

In 1902, Lambert formed the Union Auto Company in Union City to produce a rear-engine automobile with gearless, friction-drive. In 1905, Lambert closed this firm and formed the Buckeye Manufacturing Company in Anderson.

Lambert Commercial Vehicles
Lambert Commercial Vehicles

By 1910, this company had over 1,000 employees producing 3,000 cars and trucks a year. Lambert manufactured automobiles, trucks, fire engines, and farm tractors until 1917. During World War I, Lambert factories were converted to national defense production.

At the end of World War I, John correctly prophesied that a medium-sized, independent manufacturer would have to expand tremendously or merge with one of the large companies capable of mass production. The Lamberts chose instead to go into associated fields of automobile manufacturing. By the end of his career, John W. Lambert had over 600 patents in the automobile, gasoline engine, and other mechanical fields.

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