Lockport: Niagara County Detroit in the Buggy Age? | Lifestyles

It is common to think of the Niagara frontier as just a maker of parts, not vehicles. Harrison Radiator / GM, the leading local car and truck parts maker founded in 1910 in Lockport, comes to mind.

The end of the horse and buggy at the turn of the 20th century was an innovative and creative era. A new industry centered around the automobile was launched. Buggy, bicycle and blacksmith shops built cars with engines, gas, electricity and steam. There was hesitation, experimentation, and the rise and fall of new companies as they tried to imagine, design and manufacture new vehicles to replace the horse.

Niagara County was a region of transport pioneers. According to my investigations, entrepreneurial engineers in the cities of Lockport, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls, Gasport and Wilson have created more than 10 companies that produced complete vehicles during the period of transition from railcar to motor vehicle.

During the early days of the auto industry, Lockport, the vehicle production center of Niagara County, housed five of the companies: American Motor Truck Company, 1904; Secret Motor Vehicle Company, 1901; Lockport Bicycle Works, 1895; SBM Steam, 1901; and Fonderie Dussault, 1904.

It was a fast-paced business, and tooling, workers, and manufacturing often moved to other workshops, making it difficult to determine who was making what and when. There are rumors of other vehicles and there may have been a few prototypes. For example, an article by Clarence Lewis, a Niagara County historian, claimed that the first horseless steam car in the United States was built in the late 1800s by Elisha West, a Lockport resident, machinist and fitter. steam. There is a credible account of two tests of this first vehicle at Lockport. In tracing the story, I verified that West had a store during this time at 79 Market Street.

If you needed a motor vehicle you could do local shopping and the man who rode your horseless car lived in town.

Let’s take a look at the pioneers and companies that made Lockport the hub of motor pushchair manufacturing in Niagara County.

American Motor Truck Company

Founded in Lockport, the main office and factory of the American Motor Truck Company was located in a large building on Caledonia Street near Gooding Street. At first, the company was involved with the Findlay Motor Company of Findlay, Ohio, and the two later merged.

In 1908, EB Olmsted was the vice president, overseeing the manufacture of trucks for agricultural and commercial use. The company also had sales offices in Chicago and San Francisco. Continuing its influence, the company exhibited at numerous national auto shows of the time.

Claiming to be “built for the transport of goods and passengers,” American Motor produced a series of rugged-looking trucks, including passenger coaches, ambulances, delivery, patrol and chemical cars.

Secret Motor Vehicle Company

It was founded in 1901 by Byron V. Covert, a local hero and civic-minded businessman. He built an emergency quarantine hospital on the grounds of Lockport City Hospital in just two days, to treat those affected by the 1918 flu epidemic. Covert was also involved in starting Harrison Radiator.

Covert’s first business was a bicycle store at 56 Market Street where he sold Columbia bikes and his own brand. The head office was then moved to 57-61 Richmond Avenue (Canal Street), and there is also a listing at 12-18 Richmond Avenue. The building at 57-61 Richmond Avenue was sold to Herbert C. Harrison, who founded Harrison Radiator in the same building. Later, a new and large secret factory was built at 91-95 Grand Street.

Secret automobiles manufactured from 1901 to 1907, fueled first by steam, then by gas. The bodies of the Covert cars were finished and painted by the Bronson Carriage Shop on Park Avenue (later the location of the Park Hotel). The cars were also exported to England under the Covert-Jacksons name. Covert had sales offices in Rochester and Detroit.

After 1907 the company was known as the Covert Gear Company. Covert continued to manufacture parts, specializing in transmissions. The last record dates back to 1933 when the company closed.

A Covert car, in restored condition, can be found at the excellent Wilson Historical Society Vehicle Museum.

Lockport Bicycle Works

In 1892, Fred W. Korff (also known as Korf) and Edward M. Bunce were listed as the owners of Lockport Bicycle Works at 58 Market Street. A Mr. Brice is also registered as involved in the development of this buggy, a lightweight horseless cart with bicycle wheels.

This unique automobile is not included for its practicality but for its inventiveness and creativity. I would call it a cart without horses; you can’t call it an automobile because it didn’t really have an engine. The feed method consisted of two large winding springs that could be continuously twisted as the vehicle moved.

Ancient automotive literature calls the vehicle the “Lockport”. There is a sketchy story suggesting that two prototypes were produced. A descriptive road test in the Lockport Journal, October 17, 1895 edition, presented these highlights: “… the vehicle was exhibiting considerable speed … at the front are two small steel barrels which contain the springs.” . ”.

We must thank Korff and Brice for their experimentation and their daring while other emerging car manufacturers used gas, steam or electric engines.

SBM Steam

At the turn of the 20th century, SBM Steam, 86-88 Market Street, was producing steam cars and parts for steam vehicles. This company produced the engine for the oldest surviving Canadian automobile. The 4 horsepower, 2 cylinder steam engine was purchased by a Canadian company for the Neff Steam Buggy in 1901. In the same year, SBM produced a steam runabout.

SBM was named after the directors, Schaeffer, Bunce and Marvin. The company was rebranded as SB Steam and turned to selling motorless cars when Marvin left. The speculation is that Marvin had the rights to the steam engine.

Dussault Auto Works

Dussault Auto Works, 19-21 Buffalo Avenue, was founded by Albert H. Dussault, a former employee of Covert Motor Vehicle Company. An enterprising Lockport man, he had a series of businesses. In 1904 he opened a machine shop (Auto Works) and an advertisement in 1904 indicated that the shop made automobiles “to order”. Dussault held a patent on a 3-cylinder engine of his design.

Dussault was also director of the Dussault foundry at 2-6 Washburn Street.

A 1927 business directory lists Dussault Auto Works selling automobiles at 53-55 Richmond Avenue.

• • •

In the transition to the automobile, the change came in the companies that supported the horse. In 1895, 16 blacksmiths were listed in the Lockport Directory; and by 1920, there were only six left.

The enterprising, self-taught engineers at Lockport imagined and created these first cars, participating in the greatest revolution in 20th century transportation history. Why did Lockport have so many early vehicles? Perhaps we can attribute it to geography and the Erie Canal. Due to the lowering of the canal at Lockport, it had accessible hydraulic power. Using the oars of the mill off the canal, many factories were built. Then steam and electricity followed.

As a result of this initial manufacturing, Lockport has developed a core of skilled and experienced inventors, machinists and craftsmen. Since it was a small town, the exchange of ideas was easier. Tracing the history of these early vehicles at Lockport, I discovered an interaction and movement between the workshops of the inventors. You can walk to all of the listed vehicle stores in 15 minutes, and even stop by the Harrison Radiator factory on Richmond Avenue for a tour. With early manufacturing, a concentration of the right people and mind, things turned out at the right time at Lockport for the fledgling motor buggy business.

Originally from Lockport, Jim Boles is the operator of Vanishing Past Press, whose goal is to develop, publish and market scholarly and culturally significant work relating to under-examined and unexplored local history. To ask questions or suggest additions to his list of local automakers, contact him at [email protected] Resources used in his research were provided by the Lockport Public Library, the Niagara County Historical Society, and the Wilson Historical Society.

Comments are closed.