Steamobile Style A, 1901

Courtesy

This example of Keene-based Steamobile Company of America’s

Steamobile Style A was produced in 1901.

In the early days of the auto industry it was not unusual for small firms to produce cars in small towns throughout the country. Keene was the home of one such company.

Reynold Janney built an experimental auto in the Trinity Cycle Manufacturing Company plant on Church Street in 1900. Janney was the superintendent of this bicycle factory that was housed in the Jones Building where the Carriage House condominiums are now located.

The experimental machine, a light pleasure wagon, was given its trial run on June 26, 1900. The car had three cylinders attached to a revolving shaft. The shaft activated gears that powered the vehicle. Steam power ran the engine.

The trial run was successful, and in January 1901, the Church Street factory began production of the new auto. During the next month, The Keene Evening Sentinel announced the Steamobile Company of America, a Delaware corporation with capital stock of $500,000, had acquired the factory, machinery and patent rights of the Trinity Cycle Company and were to commence the manufacture of the new auto under the name “Steamobile.” The new firm was to test the model built the previous summer and then begin work on 125 of the new vehicles.

Five new Steamobiles were completed in June 1901, and five executives of the company drove them successfully to Spofford Lake and back. Twenty Steamobiles were completed and shipped out by July. A few weeks later the company received an order from London.

Three models were in production when superintendent Janney left the firm in September to join the Locomobile Company in Bridgeport. Steamobile Vice President W.S. Rogers became the lead designer for the firm. At the beginning of 1902, he designed a new model called “the Transit.” It had a raised seat for the driver at the rear and a large passenger compartment in the front. The passenger compartment could also be converted to a truck body to carry freight.

The company displayed its autos at the New York Automobile Show and opened a sales office in Washington, D.C. Local residents began to buy the cars, and six more were shipped to England.

The company seemed to be moving toward success when The Sentinel announced in August 1902 that the company had been sold to the Standard Roller Bearing Company of Philadelphia and moved to that city. The firm had a stock of 20 to 30 unsold cars at that time. An announcement later that year indicated that the company had too many vehicles to be sold and was closing its doors.

Keene’s Steamobile Company may have been a victim of over-production and high retail prices; the comparable Locomobile sold for $100 less than the Steamobile. One of the Steamobiles shipped to England still exists. It is fully restored and is entered in antique auto rallies there.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.