Scientist of the Day - Freelan and Francis Stanley
Freelan and Francis Stanley, twin American brothers, businessmen, and inventors, were born June 1, 1849. The Stanley brothers developed and marketed the first commercial steam-powered automobile, commonly called the "Stanley steamer." In the first image above, the brothers sit in their 1897 prototype, the first they built. The second image shows a 1912 Stanley on a mountain road. By most accounts the Stanley steamer was superior to the Ford Model T in every way--it was faster, quieter, more powerful, better finished, and had fewer moving parts and was thus mechanically more reliable than an internal-combustion-powered vehicle. The brothers even produced a racecar, the Stanley Rocket, that in 1906 set the land-speed record of 127 miles per hour (third image).
Yet the Stanley steamer never carved out a large enough niche for itself, and although thousands of cars were sold to happy customers between 1904 and 1924, the company eventually went under, its demise accelerated by Francis’s early death in 1918, which was quite hard on Freelan.
Nevertheless, there are lots of Stanley steamers still around, in museums, in the garages of collectors, like Jay Leno (fourth image), and even on the road. If you would like to see a Stanley steamer in operation, here is one video. In spite of what the narrator says, there is no evidence that the lengthy time it took to start a steamer contributed to its demise. It wasn’t so easy to start a Model T either.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.