Cars are a relatively recent invention in human history, but in a short time they have become a pervasive part of our everyday life. Travelling here and there to school functions, sporting events, work, and family gatherings, cars are the primary mode of transportation for most people today.
Two important players in the history of the automobile called Newton their home for many years: Freelan and Francis Stanley.
The Stanley Motor Carriage Company was a family business founded by identical twin brothers Francis Edgar Stanley (1849–1918) and Freelan Oscar Stanley (1849–1940). The brothers worked together for much of their lives and are usually referred to as F.E. and F.O. Stanley. They were born in Kingfield, Maine, where today there is a museum dedicated to preserving their lives’ works, the Stanley Museum.
By the end of the 19th century the Stanleys had already achieved a comfortable lifestyle by profits made from the invention of a dry photographic plate coating system which they sold to George Eastman of Kodak. The Stanleys were ingenious inventors, though their steam-powered automobiles were hardly unique. In fact, many early road vehicles were propelled by steam engines, and “by the start of the 1900s over 125 American manufacturers offered steam cars.
The first Stanley steam-powered automobile was invented by the brothers in 1897. Their car was an immediate hit. The Stanley’s customers were hardly your average American family; these cars were mainly purchased by wealthy people.
The Stanleys were not only inventors, but also showmen who were inclined to stage fantastic stunts and participate in high-speed races with their cars. On August 31, 1899, F.O. Stanley and his wife Flora drove a Stanley Steamer up the Mount Washington Carriage Road. The 7.6 mile trip took over two hours, and, according to Mrs. Stanley, “’We went on and up, up, still up, the continuous climbing being varied only by a steepness so excessive that we felt a sickening anxiety lest each brilliant dash should be our last.’”
In January of 1906, Fred Marriott set a land speed record of 127.6 mph in a Stanley “Rocket.” After this accomplishment, the Stanleys continued to have their cars raced with Marriott behind the wheel, until “in 1907 the ‘Rocket’ crashed at over 130 mph. Luckily, Fred Marriott survived, but it was the end for the ‘Rocket’ and the Stanley Brothers’ record plans.”
By the 1920s, the comparatively low price and easy-to-start internal combustion engine automobiles had rendered the steam-powered vehicles obsolete. The Stanleys sold their company in 1917.
According to Tom Dawson, “about 14,000 Stanley Steam cars were built between 1898 and 1924 by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company of Newton, Massachusetts. Only about 600 Stanleys still exist worldwide.” Some of them still run.