The Winton Automobile

1899 Winton

We have all heard the analogy of something that becomes obsolete being referred to as “having gone the way of the horse and buggy.” So when you think about that, you naturally feel kind of bad for the carriage makers back in the day. All of a sudden, the invention of the automobile put them out of business, right?

Well, when you look back at the history of automobile manufacturing in America, it is surprising to learn that in fact, carriage makers and producers of bicycles were generally the firms that created the first motorized vehicles. Once you know this, it all makes sense. They already had the body, the wheels, and the steering mechanism, so all they needed to do was add the engine to propel what they already had. The people that you might assume were put out of business by the internal combustion engine were actually, in many cases, some of the most important early automotive pioneers.

One of these groundbreaking innovators was a fellow named Alexander Winton, who originally owned a Cleveland-based company that made bicycles. He shifted his focus to automaking, and produced his first single-cylinder prototype in 1896 and incorporated the Winton Motor Carriage Company the following year. These were handmade vehicles that were put together with painstaking attention to detail, and the public was shocked when an 1897 Winton was able to reach 33 miles per hour. Winton endeavored to further alleviate concerns about the true practicality of the car by putting it through a test of endurance. A Winton made it from Cleveland to the Big Apple of New York City, a distance of 800 miles, without incident.

The Winton Company made its first sale in 1898, and by the time the year came to a close they had sold 22 units. The next year sales increased to over a hundred, making Winton the top selling car company in the United States. Since these cars were made by hand, the price tag was hefty and out of reach for most Americans. By 1904 the cost of the Winton five-passenger touring car was $2,500; by comparison, the Ford Maverick made its debut some 65 years later with a price tag of $1,995.

As the competition increased, and after the Model T was introduced in 1908 as the first mass-produced vehicle, bringing the price of car ownership down, the popularity of the Winton waned. The company ceased the production of automobiles after the 1924 model year, but Winton continued to manufacture engines via the Winton Engine Company. It was absorbed by General Motors in 1930.

Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer

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