TGR: World History of the Automobile: Benz, Ford, … and a Black man named Patterson!

Brett Berk, Car and Driver: Courtesy of the Historical Society of Greenfield, Ohio: Featured Image
Patterson-Greenfield was an early 20th-century automaker headquartered in Greenfield, Ohio, a small town roughly midway between Columbus and Cincinnati. Like a number of early brands, including Buick, Pontiac, and Studebaker, it was founded as a successful 19th-century maker of horse-drawn carriages. But unlike any of those contemporaries or any other U.S. automobile company before or since, it was founded and run entirely by African American owners, providing it with a particular prominence in vehicular history. (Kolumn Magazine)


By Doni Glover, Publisher
Unapologetically Black: Doni Glover Autobiography
The Doni Glover Show on WOLB 1010 AM (Thurs. 11a-12p)

(BALTIMORE – December 23, 2019) – The history of the automobile reveals some interesting facts. From an American perspective, we sometimes forget that we are not the only people in the world. For instance, many people think that Henry Ford invented the first car.

Well, that’s not true. The story of the modern day car actually has its earliest origins in Germany.

Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929), a German engine designer and automobile engineer, is credited with inventing the Benz Patent Motorcar in 1885. For all intents and purposes, it is considered the first practical automobile. He received a patent the following year. Benz’s creation was the first petrol-powered car.

Nearly five thousand miles away in North America, the early story of the automobile picks up on American soil. Henry Ford (1863-1947), an industrialist and businessman, released the Quadricycle on June 4, 1896 in Detroit.

Áccording to Automotive News, “The Quadricycle featured a light metal frame fitted with four bicycle wheels and a buggy bench seat. It was powered by a two-cylinder, 4-hp gasoline engine. There was no steering wheel, brakes or a reverse gear.”

Benz and Ford are known around the world today. Who is not well-known is a Black man who too played a role in the history of this very important invention that revolutionized the world.

That Black man was none other than former slave C.R. Patterson.  According to African American Registry: “Born on a Virginia plantation, Charles R. ‘Rich’ Patterson was the son of Charles and Nancy Patterson. He gained his freedom by crossing the Allegheny Mountains, hiking through West Virginia, and crossing the Ohio River to reach Greenfield, OH, a station on the Underground Railroad. There, Patterson worked for the Dines and Simpson Carriage and Coach Makers Company. Later, in partnership with J.P. Lowe, he formed a company that became known for its expertly crafted horse-drawn carriages; soon he had bought out his partner and formed the highly successful C.R. Patterson and Sons Carriage Company. Charles R. Patterson was awarded patents for the following devices: a trill coupling (#364,849) in 1887; a furniture caster (#452,940) in 1891; a vehicle dash (#803,356) in 1905. Clay Gordon patented a buggy top (#983,992) that was assigned to C.R. Patterson & Sons Co. (a co-partnership) in 1911 and Homer C. Reed patented a combination ladder that was assigned to F.D. Patterson in 1910. After Charles Patterson’s death in 1910, his eldest son took over the family business. Noticing more and more of the ‘funny-looking horseless’ carriages on the road, he reported to the company’s board, ‘In 1902 there was one car to 65,000 people, and by 1909 there was one vehicle for every 800 people…I believe it’s time for us to build a Patterson horseless carriage.’ On September 23, 1915, young Patterson saw his dream roll off the assembly line-an awkward-looking two-door coupe.”

So, as we reflect on the history of the world’s greatest inventions, let us always remember that Black Americans have been a part of history the entire time – whether it’s widely known or not.