Independent thinkers, visionaries, eccentrics and swashbuckling entrepreneurs have been drawn to the auto industry since its inception. A few such as Walter Chrysler, David Buick, Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet changed the world and were rewarded with a dubious type of immortality as brand names. Other visionaries such as Ralph Teetor or Harry Dey are largely forgotten even though their contributions transformed the world of transportation.
Harry E. Dey was born in Minnesota and from an early age manifested a genius for all things mechanical. According to local legend, at age 8 he had a reputation for the repairing of watches. In 1882 he was employed as an electrical engineer in New York City, and in 1889 patented what was at the time an innovative storage battery.
Six years later he established Dey Griswold Company to manufacture a revolutionary type of automobile – a gasoline electric hybrid. Unfortunately he was unable to attract investors. However, his amazing vehicle piqued the interest of the owners of Roger American Mechanical Carriage Company. They envisioned Dey’s car as the one that would give their company an edge over the competition in the embryonic but rapidly growing auto industry.
Records indicate that several Armstong hybrids were produced in 1896, but only one has survived and it is on display at the Louwman Museum. It was a vehicle years ahead of its time. Apparently it was the first automobile prodcued with an electric self starter. It featured an automatic transmission. And it was the first automobile with turbine gas motor.
An Electric Porsche
But Dey wasn’t the only person giving the world a glimpse of the future during the formative years of the auto industry. Ferdinand Porsche, namesake for an automobile manufacturing company that would become known internationally for speed and performance, developed and installed an electric lighting system in his parents’ house when he was just 18 years of age. And in 1893, he joined Vereinigte Elektrizitäts-AG Béla Egger in Vienna. Within four years he had risen from mechanic apprentice to head of the testing department.
And then he began experimenting with a vehicle of his own design, an automobile that would alleviate problems with air that was “ruthlessly spoiled by the large number of petrol engines in use.” The first Porsche built vehicle was an electric. In 1900, the first Lohner-Porsche Electromobile was displayed at the Expo in Paris.
The Brother’s Stanley
Freelan Stanley and his twin brother Francis were born in Maine in 1847. Before turning their attention to the building of steam powered automobiles that set land speed records, the brothers were involved in an array of innovative businesses.
They were pioneering educators, and amateur violin-makers. Francis invented and patented the airbrush for photography and an array of drafting instruments. And together they revolutionized photography with the development of a photographic plate process. As an historic footnote, to finance their experimentation with automobiles they sold their patents and photography supply company to George Eastman. In turn he established a company named Kodak.
The Stanley brother’s became synonymous with steam cars. But that was only part of the story. They also developed busses and a luxury hotel resort in Colorado that would years later be linked to The Shining, a movie starring Jack Nicholson.
A New Generation of Independent Thinkers
A new generation of indiependent thinkers is working to transform the world of the future. Elon Musk and Tesla, jat as with Henry Ford and the Model T, may dominate the spotlight. But in the shadows are legions of visionaries that are transforming the world of transportation at the speed of light. Soon, advanced dirver assist systems, self driving cars, automatic emergency braking, and connected mobile apps will be as much of a part of the accepted driving experience as air conditioning, automatic transmissions, and power steering.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America.