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Meet The Black Family Who Produced Cars For 100 Years Before Henry Ford

The advancement of Black people in the field of science and technology has been hidden for centuries. The curriculums used in teaching in African schools was manipulated and created in a way to make sure that the African child, man/woman, does not learn about the technological greatness of his/her ancestors, and even those present.

When it comes to the field of automobile manufacturing, many people in the world believe that Henry Ford is the father and pioneer. They were not taught that a company owned by a formerly enslaved Black man, named Charles Richard Patterson, from Ohio, in America, manufactured automobiles before Henry Ford.

Charles Richard Patterson

The technological ingenuity of the Patterson family would not have been known if he continued to be enslaved in the South of America. The South was the most brutal and repressive of enslaved Africans. Patterson made adequate plans and escaped the Southern state of West Virginia, and reached Ohio where he became a free man. This was before the Civil War.

Patterson had an interest in production, and would always invest in a Blacksmith business once a month. After some time, he took over the ownership of the blacksmith company and controlled its productions.

Patterson began the production of their Horse-drawn carriage in the 1860s, and perfected this craft, becoming one of the best in the business in the 19th century. He continued to make an impact on American society with his carriages until he passed away in 1910.

After his death, his son, Frederick Douglass Patterson, took over the management of the business, and the production of their carriages.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Frederick Douglass Patterson launched a new vision for the company, and they expanded to the production of automobiles. In 1915 they rolled out their first automobile production line.

The small size of the company, prevented them from building their automobiles in large quantities, to dominate the United States market. And because of this financial challenge, they were starved of adequate fame and exposure. But even at the level which they operated, the company was able to move unto the production of trucks and buses also.

Henry Ford then later took over the automobile industry and became a household name, in America, and indeed the world. But till date, the style and prototype of the Patterson-Greenfield Automobile is sort after by car manufacturers, to create a unique style of automobile engines.

The Greenfield-Patterson Bus


The achievements of men like Frederick Douglass Patterson, and his father Charles Richard Patterson, are noteworthy in the study of Black greatness and ingenuity.

The study of such achievements by Africans (and Black people) around the world, is essential in the formation of a resilient charisma and pride among Black people worldwide.

Great attention should be given to stories such as these by the education ministries and boards in Africa, so as to imbibe in young Africans the confidence to follow the legacies of their ancestors, who changed the world, even in the harshest of environments and situations.

A boy posing with the Greenfield-Patterson Bus Boy model

African schools, backed by the European curriculums have always painted the Europeans as the inventors of everything good in the field of science and technology. But we know that that is false, and we are doing our best to tell the hidden stories an achievement of the Black race.

Parents and elders should dig and find the great achievements of people of African descent around the world, and teach them to their children. This will go a long way in changing the narrative of how Africans look upon themselves, now and in the future.

In the roughly 125 years during which the automobile has been manufactured in America, there have been thousands of companies that have come and gone. Some were barely a blip on the historical radar, while others have lasted well into the modern age. Yet in all these thousands of companies, African Americans have only been the owners of one. And that company, the Patterson-Greenfield Automobile Company, existed for less than a decade some 100 years ago.

Frederick Patterson

Near the end of the 1800s, carriage works manufacturers were proliferating across much of the Midwest. It seemed nearly every small town had their own, while the larger cities often had dozens. In southern Ohio, the town of Greenfield was home to J.P. Lowe & Company, a carriage works manufacturer who would go on to play an important role in the establishment of the first African-American-owned automobile manufacturer.

After having established his own carriage works in 1873, James P. Lowe enlisted the help of former Dines & Simpson carriage works foreman Charles R. Patterson. Born into slavery, Patterson worked his way to freedom, learning the coach building trade and, over the years, making a name for himself as a well-respected manufacturer. In an era stricken with racism, discrimination, segregation. Etc. that he was African-American seemed to have little bearing on his reputation as one who produced carriages of high quality.

By 1893, Patterson was able to buy out Lowe’s share of the company, which he would soon rebrand as C.R. Patterson, Son & Co. Here he would employ his two sons, Frederick and Samuel, helping them learn the trade and further the company’s reputation. At their prime, C.R. Patterson, Son & Co. produced a reported 28 different vehicle styles, each ranging in price from $120 to $150, with a staff of only 10 to 15 employees. Sadly, Samuel would pass away in 1899 at the age of 23.

At the turn of the century, the horse-drawn carriage began to find itself replaced by the horseless carriage. All across the country, more and more people began falling for the automobile’s charm. Due to its rise in popularity and structural similarity to its non-motorized predecessor, many carriage works began moving away from the horseless variety and into the mechanized future.

Among those to leave the 19th century behind was the newly minted Patterson-Greenfield Automobile Company. Following the death of his father Charles in 1910, Frederick inherited C.R. Patterson, Son & Co. Seeing the writing on the wall, Frederick elected to begin manufacturing automobiles in 1914. It wasn’t until the following year that the first production model Patterson-Greenfield rolled out of the Greenfield, OH factory.

Patterson-Greenfield Ad

Offering two body styles – touring car or roadster – the Patterson-Greenfield featured a 30 hp Continental engine, electric starter and lighting, full floating rear axle, cantilever springs, demountable rims, and a split window designed for ventilation. Roughly comparable to the ubiquitous Model T, the Patterson-Greenfield sold for $850. Unlike the Model T, however, the Patterson-Greenfield was advertised primarily in African-American-owned publications, chiefly Alexander’s Magazine and The Crisis, and was largely sold only regionally. One ad encouraged prospective buyers to: “…visit our factory. Glad to have you, Glad to show you how good we make this Patterson-Greenfield Automobile. It will pay you to come and look around.”

While later tallies would be inflated to around 150 vehicles having been manufactured, the true number is likely closer to 30. As with many of their contemporaries, Patterson-Greenfield soon found the cost of production less than sustainable. Because of this, the company produced their own automobiles for a short three years. By 1920 they had reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Co., and began manufacturing truck, bus and utility vehicle bodies installed on chassis from Ford, GM and handful of other, larger manufacturers.

Under the Greenfield Bus Body Co., Patterson managed to yet again make a name for himself by manufacturing some of the first buses used in the southern Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia school districts. Throughout the next decade, the Greenfield Bus Body Co. ramped up production to meet the increasing demands for buses and other utility vehicles. The company continued to take and fill orders before folding in 1932 following the death of Frederick.

Sadly, as with many turn-of-the-century automobile manufacturers none of the original Patterson-Greenfield automobiles are known to have survived. All that is left are a handful of photographs and ads touting the construction and reliability of these historically significant automobiles. If anyone has any leads on one – please do not pass go – do not collect $200 – EMAIL US immediately!!!

Charles Richard Patterson, ca. 1915Courtesy Historical Society of Greenfield

The C.R. Patterson & Sons Company was a carriage building firm, and the first African American-owned automobile manufacturer. The company was founded by Charles Richard Patterson, who was born into slavery in April 1833 on a plantation in Virginia. His parents were Nancy and Charles Patterson. Patterson escaped from slavery in 1861, heading west and settling in Greenfield, Ohio around 1862.

At some point after his arrival in Ohio, Patterson went to work as a blacksmith for the carriage-building business, Dines and Simpson. In 1865 he married Josephine Utz, and had five children from 1866 to 1879. In 1873, Patterson went into partnership with J.P. Lowe, another Greenfield-based carriage manufacturer. Over the next twenty years, Patterson and Lowe developed a highly successful carriage-building business.

In 1893 Patterson bought out J.P. Lowe’s share of the business and reorganized it as C.R. Patterson & Sons Company. The company built 28 types of horse-drawn vehicles and employed approximately 10-15 individuals. While the company managed to successfully market its equine-powered carriages and buggies, the dawn of the automobile was rapidly approaching.

Charles Patterson died in 1910, leaving the successful carriage business to his son Frederick who in turn initiated the conversion of the company from a carriage business into an automobile manufacturer. The first Patterson-Greenfield car debuted in 1915 and was sold for $850. With a four-cylinder Continental engine, the car was comparable to the contemporary Ford Model T. The Patterson-Greenfield car may, in fact, have been more sophisticated than Ford’s car, but C.R. Patterson & Sons never matched Ford’s manufacturing capability.

Estimates of Patterson-Greenfield car production vary, but it is almost certain that no more than 150 vehicles were built. The company soon switched to production of truck, bus, and other utility vehicle bodies which were installed atop chassis made by major auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. Its school bus bodies in particular became popular as Midwestern school districts began to convert from horse-drawn to internal-combustion-fired transportation by 1920.

Around 1920, the company reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Company but after ten years of steady, if unspectacular growth, the Great Depression sent the company into a downward spiral. Frederick Patterson died in 1932, and the company began to disintegrate in the late 1930s. Around 1938, the company moved to Gallipolis, Ohio, changing its name again to the Gallia Body Company in an attempt to restart its prior success.  The attempt failed and the company permanently closed its doors in 1939.  Like many other small auto manufacturers, the company was unable to compete with Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and other large automobile manufacturers.

No Patterson-Greenfield automobiles are known to have survived to the present, but some C.R. Patterson & Sons carriages and buggies are extant.

For additional information on the Patterson-Greenfield Automobile Company click here.

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