|Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.|
|A Page From Our American Story|
|At the dawn of the Automobile Age in the early 20th century, hundreds of small auto companies sprouted up across America as entrepreneurs recognized that society was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to transportation powered by the internal combustion engine. Some of these early companies grew to become giants that are still with us today, such as Ford and Chevrolet. Many others remained small, struggling to compete against the assembly lines of the larger manufacturers.One such company was C.R. Patterson & Sons of Greenfield, Ohio, makers of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile from 1915 to 1918. Though its name is little recognized today, there is in fact a veryimportantreasontoensure that it is not lost to history: it was, and remains to this day,theonlyAfrican American owned and operated automobile company.
Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1833. Not much is known about his life on the plantation, and historians have to sift through conflicting reports about how he came to settle in Greenfield, Ohio, a town with strong abolitionist sympathies. Some say his family arrived in the 1840s, possibly after purchasing their freedom; others suggest Patterson alone escaped in 1861. In any case, he learned the skills of the blacksmith and found work in the carriage-making trade, where he developed a reputation for building a high quality product. In 1873, he formed a business partnership with another carriage maker in town, J.P. Lowe, who was white, and eventually became sole proprietor of the renamed C.R. Patterson & Sons in 1893. It was a successful business employing an integrated workforce of 35-50 by the turn of the century, and Charles Patterson became a prominent and respected citizen in Greenfield. His catalog listed some 28 models, from simple open buggies to larger and more expensive closed carriages for doctors and other professionals.
When Patterson died in 1910, the business passed to his son Frederick, who was already something of a pioneer. He was college-educated and was the first black athlete to play football for Ohio State University. He was also an early member and vice president of the National Negro Business League founded by Booker T. Washington. Now, as owner and operator of the enterprise his father started, Frederick Patterson began to see the handwriting on the wall: the days of carriages and horse-drawn buggies were nearing an end.
At first, the company offered repair and restoration services for the “horseless carriages” that were beginning to proliferate on the streets of Greenfield. No doubt this gave workers the opportunity to gain some hands-on knowledge about these noisy, smoky and often unreliable contraptions. Like his father, Frederick was a strong believer in advertising and placed his first ad for auto repair services in the local paper in 1913. Initially, the work mostly involved repainting bodies and reupholstering interiors, but as the shop gained more experience with engines and drivetrains, they began to offer sophisticated upgrades and improvements to electrical and mechanical systems as well.
This valuable experience allowed C.R. Patterson & Sons to take the next great step in its own story as well as in African American history: in 1915, it announced the availability of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile at a price of $685. From the company’s publicity efforts, it is evident they were bursting with pride:
“Our car is made with three distinct purposes in mind. First — It is not intended for a large car. It is designed to take the place originally held by the family surrey. It is a 5-passenger vehicle, ample and luxurious. Second — It is intended to meet the requirements of that class of users, who, though perfectly able to spend twice the amount, yet feel that a machine should not engross a disproportionate share of expenditure, and especially it should not do so to the exclusion of proper provisions for home and home comfort, and the travel of varied other pleasurable and beneficial entertainment. It is a sensibly priced car. Third — It is intended to carry with it (and it does so to perfection) every conceivable convenience and every luxury known to car manufacture. There is absolutely nothing shoddy about it. Nothing skimp and stingy.”
Orders began to come in, and C.R. Patterson & Sons officially entered the ranks of American auto manufacturers. Over the years, several models of coupes and sedans were offered, including a stylish “Red Devil” speedster. Ads featured the car’s 30hp Continental 4-cylinder engine, full floating rear axle, cantilever springs, electric starting and lighting, and a split windshield for ventilation. The build quality of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile was as highly regarded as it had been with their carriages.
The initial hope and optimism, however, proved to be fairly short-lived. In an age of increased mechanization and production lines, small independent shops featuring hand-built, high quality products weren’t able to scale up production or compete on price against the rapidly growing car companies out of Detroit. In small quantities, parts and supplies were expensive and hard to come by when major manufacturers were buying them by the trainload at greatly reduced costs. Plus, the labor hours per car were much higher than that of assembly line manufacturers. As a result, the profit margin on each Patterson-Greenfield was low.
In 1918, having built by some estimates between 30 and 150 vehicles, C.R. Patterson & Sons halted auto production and concentrated once again on the repair side of the business. But they weren’t done yet. In the 1920s, the company began building truck and bus bodies to be fitted on chassis made by other manufacturers. It was in a sense a return to their original skills in building carriage bodies without engines and drivetrains and, for a period of time, the company was quite profitable. Then in 1929, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression set in. As with many small businesses, sales dried up and loans were hard to obtain. The company, now run by the sons of Frederick Patterson, soldiered on until 1939 when, after 74 years, C.R. Patterson & Sons closed its doors forever.
Sadly, no Patterson-Greenfield automobiles are known to survive today. But we should not let that dim the fact that two great entrepreneurs, Charles Richard Patterson and his son Frederick Patterson built and sustained a business that lasted several generations and earned a place not just in African American history, but in automotive history as well.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest member of the Smithsonian Institution’s family of extraordinary museums. The museum will be far more than a collection of objects. The Museum will be a powerful, positive force in the national discussion about race and the important role African Americans have played in the American story — a museum that will make all Americans proud.
1488 – The Portuguese navigator Bartholomeu Diaz landed at Mossal Bay in the Cape, the first European known to have landed on the southern extremity of Africa.
1690 – The first paper money in America was issued by the Massachusetts colony. The currency was used to pay soldiers that were fighting in the war against Quebec.
1783 – Spain recognized the independence of the United States.
1809 – The territory of Illinois was created.
1815 – The world’s first commercial cheese factory was established in Switzerland.
1862 – Thomas Edison printed the “Weekly Herald” and distributed it to train passengers traveling between Port Huron and Detroit, MI. It was the first time a newspaper had been printed on a train.
1869 – Edwin Booth opened his new theatre in New York City. The first production was “Romeo and Juliet”.
1900 – In Frankfort, KY, gubernatorial candidate William Goebels died from an assasin’s bullet wounds. On August 18, 1900, Ex-Sec. of State Caleb Powers was found guilt of conspiracy to murder Gov. Goebels.
1913 – The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. It authorized the power to impose and collect income tax.
1916 – In Ottawa, Canada’s original parliament buildings burned down.
1917 – The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, which had announced a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.
1918 – The Twin Peaks Tunnel began service. It is the longest streetcar tunnel in the world at 11,920 feet.
1927 – The Federal Radio Commission was created when U.S. President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill.
1941 – In Vichy, France, the Nazis used force to restore Pierre Laval to office.
1945 – Russia agreed to enter World War II against Japan.
1946 – The first issue of “Holiday” magazine appeared.
1947 – Percival Prattis became the first black news correspondent admitted to the House and Senate press gallery in Washington, DC. He worked for “Our World” in New York City.
1951 – Dick Button won the U.S. figure skating title for the sixth time.
1951 – The Tennessee Williams play, “The Rose Tattoo”, opened on Broadway in New York.
1966 – The first rocket-assisted controlled landing on the Moon was made by the Soviet space vehicle Luna IX.
1969 – At the Palestinian National Congress in Cairo, Yasser Arafat was appointed leader of the PLO.
1972 – The first Winter Olympics in Asia were held at Sapporo, Japan.
1984 – Challenger 4 was launched as the tenth space shuttle mission.
1989 – South African politician P.W. Botha unwillingly resigned both party leadership and the presidency after suffering a stroke.
1998 – In Italy, a U.S. Military plane hit a cable causing the death of 20 skiers on a lift.
2009 – Eric Holder was sworn in as attorney general. He was the first African-American to hold the post.
2010 – The Alberto Giacometti sculpture L’Homme qui marche sold for $103.7 million.
2015 – The British House of Commons voted to approve letting scientist create babies from the DNA of three people.
Nonfarm employers added a seasonally adjusted 227,000 jobs in January, exceeding economists’ expectations for a 174,000 gain last month. Over the past three months, job growth has averaged 183,000. The pace of hiring has decelerated since 2014 and 2015, but that isn’t necessarily a warning sign about the labor market’s health and could reflect an economy that is approaching full employment.
The jobless rate in January was 4.8%, ticking up from December; economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 4.7% unemployment in the first month of 2017. The low unemployment rate is one reason the Federal Reserve has decided to start moving interest rates higher. Fed policy makers in December said the unemployment rate in the long run should sit in the 4.5% to 5% range, with a median longer-run projection of 4.8%.
The share of Americans who had a job or were looking for one in January was 62.9%, up from 62.7% in December. The workforce-participation rate peaked in 2000 and fell sharply after the 2007-09 recession. It remains near levels not seen since the late 1970s, but the rate has leveled off since late 2015—a reflection of stronger conditions in the labor market. Many forecasters expect participation will resume its decline in the coming years due to long-term demographic and economic trends, including the retirement of the baby-boom generation.
Average hourly earnings for private-sector workers were $26.00 in January, up a modest 3 cents from December and rising 2.5% over the past year. Wage growth has firmed over the past couple of years as lower unemployment has forced U.S. employers to compete over a shrinking pool of available workers. But progress has been uneven, and the pace of pay raises remains subdued compared with prerecession levels. One factor that may have helped boost January pay: turn-of-the-year minimum-wage increases in 19 states.
A broad measure of unemployment and underemployment, known as the U-6, was 9.4% in January. That was its highest level since October and nearly twice the level of the official jobless rate, which is known as the U-3. The measure includes discouraged job-seekers who have stopped looking for work, other people marginally attached to the labor force, and part-time employees who say they want but can’t find full-time work.
As of January, 24.4% of unemployed Americans had been out of work longer than six months. That was 1.9 million people, a figure that fell by 244,000 over the previous 12 months. Long-term unemployment remains elevated from prerecession levels, though it has come down since peaking in mid-2010 at a little less than half of the unemployed population.
Every worker’s dream is to enjoy a secure retirement. Social Security is here to secure today and tomorrow. Part of that commitment is ensuring you have the most up-to-date information when you make your retirement decisions.
As the bells ring in the New Year, they also bring changes for new Social Security retirement beneficiaries. Full retirement age is 66 and two months for people born 01/02/1955 through 01/01/1956. They are eligible to receive permanently reduced retirement benefits when they turn 62 in 2017.
Full retirement age is the age at which a person first becomes entitled to full (unreduced) retirement benefits. It had been 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 that age has been gradually increasing until it reaches 67 for people born in 1960 and later.
As the full retirement age continues to increase, there are greater reductions in benefits if you claim them before you reach full retirement age. For example, if you apply for benefits in 2017 at age 62, your monthly benefit amount will be reduced nearly 26 percent.
You can find your full retirement age, along with other important information, on our website.
Some things you must remember when you’re thinking about retirement:
- You may start receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. The longer you wait, the higher your monthly benefit will be.
- Your monthly benefits are reduced permanently if you start them any time before full retirement age.
- If you die, your retirement date can affect the payment to your surviving widow or widower. If you started receiving retirement benefits before full retirement age, we cannot pay your surviving spouse their full retirement age benefit amount. We base their benefit on the amount of your reduced benefits.
- If you elect to receive benefits before you reach full retirement age, you should understand how continuing to work affects your benefits.