1896 Whitney Steam Runabout

Our Thanks to Colburn Benson for this info

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BONHAMS : 1896 Whitney Steam Runabout : SALE AUCTION Beaulieu 13 Sept 2003

1896 Whitney Two-Cylinder Steam Runabout Registration no. PM 8970   

V.C.C. Dating Certificate 1541

Estimate £40,000 - 50,000

Any one of ordinary intelligence can be instructed to operate one in one day.¹

George Eli Whitney (1862-1963) was a remarkable man; he lived to be 101, had
a keen nose for business and had engineering in his blood, coming from a
family of engineers, an uncle, Amos Whitney, being a founder of Pratt &
Whitney. Around 1887 William Mason commissioned Whitney to design a small
engine for carriage use. Widely known as the Mason engine, Whitney¹s $200
design was the first production engine in the United States automotive
industry. Whitney¹s design was either used or copied by numerous horseless
carriage makers, the Stanley Brothers and Locomobile to name two, becoming
the most popular power plant for American steam automobiles for the next

  Whitney decided to build his own steam carriage in 1896, The Horseless Age
publishing an account. Charles Gibson came forward, a jeweller from New
York, keen to build his own design in Whitney¹s workshops. He soon
abandoned his ideas, and, recognising Whitney¹s superior design, wished to purchase
it. Quoting the astonishingly high price of $2500, the cash was duly
produced the next day. Gibson then embarked on a huge publicity tour,
arriving in New Jersey, claiming the car was his own design. The car was
dismantled, drawings made and patents filed covering the entire carriage.

Whitney prosecuted and won, losing his wife in the process to Gibson¹s
lawyer. Undeterred, and although very much in the marine business, Whitney
began work on an improved second and third steam carriage, in 1897 forming a
partnership with a prominent Boston attorney, George B. Upham, to
manufacture and sell Whitney steam vehicles, 60/40 shares. Whitney got on
with his work while Upham looked after their patents, the company promoting
its new-found business, applying for over 300 patents. As Whitney¹s fame
spread, so he was visited by Duryea, Ransom E. Olds, the Stanley brothers,
Pope, Knox, Walker and Barber, many pointers on design given to the
Stanleys. who later infringed Whitney¹s patents, two infringement suits in
favour of Whitney following.  

Here is an important early Brighton car that was advanced for its day, built
by an engineer who understood the lightweight simplicities of construction
and the ease with which his product should be used. Whisper quiet in
running, all controls, excepting the braking via the footbrake, are done via
the tiller, the steering, speed, forward and reverse all controlled via one
hand twisting, swinging, raising or lowering the tiller, all working like
clockwork. The carriage has 30² front and 32² rear wheels with pneumatic
tyres, a tubular steel frame, braced along both sides, chain and sprocket
drive, a single contracting brake, the horizontal engine with double acting
4² X 2² and piston valve gear supplied by 14² firetube boiler suspended
astride the fuel and water tanks astern of the boiler and within the box of
the carriage. Steering is pivoted at the hubs, the steering gear ingeniously
fully compensated for all inequalities of the road, only the carriage itself
being sprung.  

Imported in the 1960s and V.C.C. dated 1896, this car started the Brighton
Run last year as car number 3, one of the very oldest Victorians in the
event, on pneumatic tyres. Immaculately presented and owned for the last ten
years, with eight successful runs to Brighton, an entry for this years¹
OBrighton¹ has been accepted. Together with a very interesting history file
of the man, a new burner, new boiler certificate, Swansea V5, MoT and road
licence, the vendor would be willing to give advice and his happy
experiences on the running of this important early car to the successful new owner.