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Efforts from The Duryea Brothers

Charles Duryea

The same year Charles returned to Peoria and showed interest in starting an automobile manufacturing operations there. With some of the funds seemingly coming from his sale of shares in the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the Duryea Manufacturing Company of Peoria Heights was incorporated in 1898.

Charles developed a prototype of his firm's vehicle called the Duryea Motor Trap and proudly displayed it to the public in July 1898. The new design by Charles was slightly advanced then the previous Duryea models and was equipped with a three cylinder engine. The major problem to the issue was having enough cash in hand to commence the production.

Charles Duryea contracted with another local firm called the Peoria Rubber and manufacturing Company to build automobiles. The automobile production was commenced at the Peoria Heights manufacturing plant in 1899. The Brass Foundry Company cast eighteen engine blocks for the Duryea Manufacturing Company. But very soon, the Peoria Rubber Company got pretty busy by the 'Bicycle Trust' and the production of automobiles became an occasional task for them. Compared to the projected production of hundred cars for the year 1899, they only managed to turn out about 15 units. By the start of 1900, Charles was fed up with the way things were going and he decided to move to Reading, Pennsylvania in February.

Charles built some automobiles under the name of the Duryea Power Company, located in Reading. Using his standard tiller, he made three and four wheel cars. Just like in their primitive form of the 1893 car, these cars featured honed variants of the 'one hand control'. The tiller placed between the seats controlled the steering of the car as well as the transmission of the car. By twisting the grip of the tiller opened up the throttle and pushing the lever down engaged the vehicle in neutral position. This type of steering was believed to be the most scientifically laid out mechanism of the period. Because of this, the Duryeas were marketed under the slogan, 'Carriages, not machines'.

Charles brushed off all other cars of his time as 'a cross between a locomotive and a fire engine'. A British Duryea company was formed at Coventry in 1904, initially as a sales agency for the American built cars. Later on though, using the parts manufactured by Willans & Robinson of Rugby, the production of British built Duryeas was commenced. This operation was looked after under by Henry Sturrney, the founder editor of the Autocar magazine. But this operation survived only until 1907.

In 1907, while Charles was doing a show in Columbus, Ohio, he got the news that he had been ousted from the company. He rushed back to Reading and set up a shop in a garage. It was in this garage that he built his Buggyaut under his name in 1907. This car was a crude high wheeler with solid tires and was commercially produced in 1908. The rear wheels of the vehicle were driven by a twin cylinder engine through friction. The Buggyaut, by all standards was inferior to the 1895 Duryea model. But somehow,its production lasted till 1913. The company even produced a sports version of the Buggyaut in 1916.

He then built some cars in Saginaw, Michigan between 1911 and 1913. Here he continued building automobiles, vacuum cleaners and other mechanical devises. Charles then moved yet again to Philadelphia in 1913 and formed the Duryea Motor Corporation. During a very short period from 1916 to 1917, Charles returned to his previously designed three wheeler vehicle design and came out with the 'Duryea Gem', a torpedo like cyclecar mounted with a Buggyaut engine and transmission.

But this car failed to attract financiers and then Charles called it quits in 1917. From that time onwards till the time of his death in 1938, Charles practiced as a consulting engineer. Sometime before he died, Charles bemoaned that the children growing up will think that Henry Ford had invented the automobile.

Charles Duryea died in Philadelphia on the September 28th, 1938 in Philadelphia, aged 76.

Frank Duryea

On the other hand, after dissolving of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, Frank went to New York and joined the American Automobile of America as an engineer and designed their 1899 American automobile. This company was later named the Gasmobile and remained in business until 1905. In 1900 Frank left the Automobile Company of America and moved to Hampden, Massachusetts. There he started his own automobile company called the Hampden Automobile Co. in 1901 and produced the 1901 Hampden.

Frank observed that he needed more space to work and he was also seeking some financial support. He contacted the J. Steven Arms & Tools Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts for financial help. When the Chicopee firm saw Frank's work they bought the Hampden Company in 1901 and moved the entire automobile production to the plant at 685 Main Street in Chicopee Falls. The newly bought company occupied the space where the Overman Car was built.

In 1901, Frank signed a contract with the J. Steven Arms & Tools Company to produce automobiles under his supervision. Frank was appointed as the Chief Engineer of the Company. The company started its automobile production in 1902. The first automobile by the Steven Arms & Tools Company was the two cylinder 1902 Model H. Even in its inaugural season of production, the company sold 50 units of the car in 1902 and a 200 automobiles lot was underway. The next year the company produced a two cylinder 7 hp automobile with a 69 inch wheel base called the 1903 Model L. The production of this model went on till 1905.

The Stevens-Duryea Company

This association led to the formation of Stevens -Duryea Company in 1904 where Irving Page was the president and Frank was the vice – president and the chief engineer. The company was formed to produce Stevens-Duryea automobiles in factories in Chicopee and East Springfield.

Frank designed the Stevens-Duryea car, which achieved an immediate success. The first automobile by the Stevens – Duryea was the four cylinder 1905 Model R. This vehicle had a wheel base of 90 inches and it was a 20 horsepower touring car. The company built 300 of that model in 1905. The 1905 Model R was available till 1908. In 1906, the company came out with the 1906 50 hp, shaft driven, big six cylinder vehicle called the 1906 Model S. This vehicle became a high quality and a high priced automobile. The factory produced it till 1908. The production of Model S in 1906 was nine hundred cars. The company also produced runabouts on special orders.

The automobile company became the Stevens – Duryea Company after separating from its parent company in 1906. Stevens withdrew from the company in 1914 leaving Frank to take hold of the company. By that time the company's sales was about a hundred cars per year. Due to the lack of working capital, the firm had to close down the assembly line. The company was debt free but it lacked funds and there was no way that it could get such funds for parts without compromising quality for cheaper cars. Frank started working on older models and sold repair parts until 1915, when the J. Steven Arms & Tools Company sold the factory along with the Steven Arms company to Westinghouse for manufacturing war material. Frank retired from the business owing to ill health in 1915.

During its ten year existence, the Stevens – Duryea company went on to become one of America's top quality cars of the Edwardian era and produced a number of popular and well known car models like the light six better known as the Model U in 1907, the Model X, a larger four cylinder car in 1908. In 1909, the company came out with a larger six cylinder version called the Model Y. The Stevens – Duryea introduced the 1913 Model C in 1913, which was available with a choice of two wheel bases, 131 and 138 inches. The automobile was equipped with a starter and electric lights. Before closing its doors after ten years, the Stevens – Duryea company had built about 15 thousand vehicles.

Frank left the automotive field with lots of achievements and dignity. When he retired and sold out in 1915, his firm was at its peak of success. Due to his frequent and extensive traveling his health had suffered. Despite that, he survived to the age of 97. Frank Duryea died on the February 15th, 1967 in Saybrook, Connecticut. He was the last surviving member of the American automotive industry's founding fathers.

Even though Frank was the real tinkerer and the brains behind the success of their automobile, Charles took all the credit without ever mentioning Frank's name. While writing for an article for the Horseless Age magazine describing the race, he mentioned about the hardships he had faced while traveling in a horse drawn carriage behind Frank. He described his brother as the operator and did not even mention his name.

In most of the accounts describing the Duryea Motor Wagon which have so far come along, everybody has mentioned Charles E. Duryea as the sole inventor of the vehicle. Whereas the real inventor was the younger brother, Frank who played the most important part in its development. Even though he left his job at a call from his brother, Frank never thought of leaving the project they had taken up. And despite having no means of survival in the latter stages, Frank on the contrary buckled up his strength and fought it out with his perseverance, the fact which has been lost sight of.


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