In Cleveland, as elsewhere in the U.S., the horsecarriage and bicycle manufacturers were best equipped to become automobile makers, and Alexander Winton was one of the first.
Winton, a Scottish immigrant with metalworking skills, arrived in Cleveland in 1884 and a few years later founded the Winton Bicycle Co. The standard bicycle of the time incorporated many elements that were adaptable to automobile technology, such as chain-and-sprocket drive, wire-spoke wheels with rubber tires, tubular steel frames, and even accessories such as rear-view mirrors.
Winton took these parts, learned the intricacies of internal-combustion engines, and built an automobile, which he exhibited to Cleveland newspapermen in October of 1896.
The next year, he incorporated the Wintor Motor Car Company and completed an improved automobile with a 2-cyl., 2-hp engine. He showed it off by driving it to Elyria and back at an average speed of 12 mph.
The next year Winton began producing a standard model in anticipation of a regular demand. Previously, American automakers (Duryea, for example) had manufactured automobiles to order. Thus, when Winton sold the first of his automobiles on March 24, 1898, it marked the beginning of the American automobile industry as a whole, and the end of the period of experimentation and novelty.
Winton's legacy includes more than 100 patents instrumental in the early designs of automobiles and diesel engines. He was also generous in passing the technology along to competitors when safety was an issue.
Winton demonstrated a genius for publicity when in 1897 he raced one of his cars and reached 33.5 mph., an incredible speed at the time. In 1899 he drove from Cleveland to New York, accompanied by Plain Dealer reporter Charles Shanks, whose exciting tales of that trip were read across the nation. When Winton reached New York he was greeted by admiring crowds, and it was estimated that eventually a million people in that city saw his car.
In 1903 a new 2-cyl., 20-hp Winton car was driven from San Francisco to New York in 64 days to establish distance and endurance records. The next year Winton brought representatives of the press in a special Pullman railroad car to see the Winton factory in Cleveland. He also continued to be a technological pioneer in the new industry.
Winton was an early manufacturer of commercial vehicles, manufacturing 8 panel trucks in 1898 and adding a "business-wagon department" to his factory in 1900. He claimed to be the first American manufacturer to use the steering wheel as standard equipment (1900) rather than a tiller; to introduce the multiple-disc clutch; to make an 8-cyl. motor (1903); and to make available a self-starter as an option (using compressed air, in 1908).
In the 1910s, Winton turned his ingenuity to diesel engines for ships and other purposes, and although the Winton was still known as a fine car, it lost its reputation for innovation. Numerous other Cleveland companies moved into the gasoline automobile business around the time Winton did. Companies such as Peerless and Stearns produced large, heavy, high-priced cars intended to appeal to wealthier buyers. There were few manufacturers in the U.S. who shared Henry Ford's vision that Americans of modest means could be induced to purchase a simple, unstyled but durable automobile. It is therefore unsurprising that Cleveland's leading manufacturers of electric and steam automobiles aimed at an upper-class market.
Winton continued developing new automobile models, including racing cars, but a decline in sales in the 1920s prompted Winton to liquidate that company and concentrate on Winton Gas Engine & Mfg. Co., formed in 1912 to produce marine engines (the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division of General Motors Corp.). In 1913 the company produced the first American diesel engine. Winton retired after selling the firm to GM in 1930.
(source: John Carroll University)
Much of the material on this website is copyrighted. Original articles appearing herein are subject to copyright. Please don't copy stuff from the site without asking; it may belong to someone! Any trademarks appearing on this site are the sole property of the registered owners. No endorsement by trademark owners is to be construed. The products, brand names, characters, related slogans and indicia are or may by claimed as trademarks of their respective owners. Every effort has been made whenever possible to credit the sources. The use of such material falls under the Fair Use provisions of intellectual property laws.