of yesteryear were the equivalent of today's electric cars - they reached fairly
respectable speeds, but the range between refills wasn't very far. Side note: There
electric cars in the early 1900s, but their underperformance made the steamers
look like marathoners. The Stanley Steamer is probably the most recognized steam-powered
car. Late night host and automobile aficionado Jay Leno features his totally restored
Stanley Steamer on his Jay Leno's Garage
website (click on thumbnail to visit his website). In an edition of Popular
Science a couple years ago, Jay reported on another of his steam cars: The
1925 Doble once owned by Howard Hughes. Advantages of steam power were many,
including quite operation, no gear box, very few moving parts in the engine, ease
of manufacturing, great acceleration, and an operational efficiency of around 90%.
If OM (Obama Motors, formerly GM) gets wind of this, next year's top tax-payer-subsidized
car could be a steamer called the BTU*.
See Auto Progress Memory Lane
* BTU = British Thermal Unit, standard unit of heat energy.
Star Performer: Stanley's Famous Steamer
By Douglas Rolfe
Back in the days when 50 mph was considered
high speed, the steam automobile built by the Stanley brothers had no trouble topping
the 100 mark.
First Stanley steamer was this starkly simple powered buggy. Produced in 1897,
it was priced at a modest $700 and, like all early Stanleys, had a braced wooden
chassis and chain drive.
Redesigned steamer of 1900, after original patents had been sold, still retained
chain drive but patent suits forced Stanley brothers to further changes, with engine
geared directly to rear axle.
1903 Model was first to employ direct gear drive. It was also first U.S. police
prowl car and first automobile adopted by a U.S. fire department.
Vanderbilt Cup Racer appeared in 1905 but did not participate in this old auto
classic. It did easily defeat fastest U.S. gear car, the front-drive Christie. But
this Stanley was geared up, not down.
The compact, light and completely encased 2-cylinder Stanley engine was a model
of simplicity - had only 13 moving parts!
Model FX was second production Stanley to wear the hood which is most commonly
associated with the early models. Engine and chassis details remain virtually unchanged.
Produced in 1907.
1911 touring car looked practically the same as the 1907 runabout but had aluminum
body with side doors, windshield and top.
Huge vee-type radiator was feature of 1916
model. Actually radiator was steam condenser. This was second Stanley to employ
an all-steel chassis in place of earlier wood job. First came out in 1915.
By 1919 Stanley steam cars were hard to distinguish from conventional cars except
when in motion: the tell-tale steam exhaust immediately identified them.
Last Stanley steamer was this 1925 luxury touring car. Despite its close resemblance
to conventional gas cars, it got few buyers.
One of the major mysteries in the history of the automobile is why did the steam-powered
car drop out of the race when it was one of the first really successful automobiles
and had many qualities which made it for many years quite superior to the gas-powered
car? Consider the steam car: It is completely silent, requires no gear box, has
remarkable pick-up and its power-plant gives 90 percent efficiency for the fuel
burned as against approximately 35 percent for the best cars produced today!
The Stanley brothers offered their first steam automobile in 1897. It was an
immediate success but the brothers soon sold their patents to another firm. Desiring
to get back into the field they redesigned their original model but ran into patent
difficulties on some details of the drive system. Undiscouraged, they completely
redesigned the power-plant and transmission and in 1902 introduced this completely
new model with direct-gear drive from the engine to rear axle. This design remained
virtually unchanged for many years and a modification was first automobile in the
world to exceed two miles a minute. Actually it hit 127 mph. ... But the gas-powered
car finally crowded it out of existence. The company folded in 1925.
Posted March 14, 2022
(updated from original post on 9/28/2013)
Douglas Rolfe Drawings
Post-Pusher Parade, May 1961 American Modeler
Air Progress: The Jet Engine, July 1951 Air Trails
Air Progress: The Bristol Story, November 1948 Air Trails
Progress: Down Memory Lane III, December 1954 Air Trails
Progress: Memory Lane Collection No. 2, August 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress Famous Firsts, August 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: Japanese Air Force World War II Fighters, December 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: Lindbergh Era (1927-1929), July 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: The Search for Speed, November 1950 Air Trails
Air Progress: Soviet Air Force Latter Day Types, March 1955 Air Trails