Business and Commerce

Automobile Industry

Who was the first to build an automobile manufacturing company?

Frederick Douglas Patterson (1871–1932) was the first black to manufacture cars, starting in 1915. Between 1915 and 1919 Patterson built some thirty Greenfield-Patterson cars in Greenfield, Ohio. He was the youngest of four children born to former slaves Charles “Rich” and Josephine Patterson. The family was already successful when Frederick was born; the father had bought out his white partner and owned C. R. Patterson and Sons Carriage Company in Greenfield, which made the most popular carriages of the day. Frederick Patterson was the first black American to graduate from the local high school; he then entered Ohio State University where he was the first black to play on the football team. He left three years later and taught school in Kentucky for two years, before returning to Greenfield to work in the family’s carriage business. Frederick’s father died shortly after his return home, leaving him and other relatives to operate the business. While traveling with his sales manager, he made note of some “funny-looking horseless” carriages. When he returned, he persuaded his company’s board to build these horseless carriages, or cars, and his bold plan resulted in the automobile known as the Patterson-Greenfield. Patterson’s first car—a two-door coupe—rolled off the line on September 23, 1915. The car reportedly had a forty-horsepower Continental four-cylinder engine and reached a top speed of fifty mph. The company’s two models—a roadster and a big four-door touring car—each sold for $850. Insufficient capital and slow car sales led to the car company’s demise. Patterson went on to produce school bus bodies that were in great demand. The bus business closed in 1939.


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