Alexander Winton, a maker of bicycles, gave Clevelanders something
to think about in 1896 when he sputtered up and down the city's
streets in the first gasoline-powered automobile. By building
an engine into a four-wheel vehicle, he started an industry that
was soon to help make Cleveland the center of Automobile manufacturing
in the United States. This title was held until about 1904, when
Cleveland lost its distinction to Detroit.
The Winton Motor Car Company quickly became an important part
of Cleveland's industry and led the way for other companies in
the city to enter the automotive field, such as White Motors.
During the industry's strongest years, some 80 different makes
of automobiles were produced by Cleveland factories, including
the Winton, the Jordan, the Cleveland, the Baker Electric, the
Hupmobile and the Peerless. The cars manufactured by Winton were
expensive and classically styled. They were purchased by the upper-middle-class
and were associated with social status.
In 1899, a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter was interviewing
Winton and questioned him about the reliability of his cars. Winton
responded that his automobile could take the two of them to New
York in less than fifty hours running time. The reporter sealed
the challenge with a pledge to buy Winton dinner if he succeeded
and The Plain Dealer editors readily agreed to sponsor
the trip. With fanfare and ceremony, the duo left Cleveland City
Hall on May 22, 1899, carrying a letter from Cleveland Mayor John
Farley to New York Mayor, Robert Van Wyck. The total distance
covered was 707.4 miles, and the actual running time was forty-seven
hours and thirty-four minutes, with an average speed of 14.87
miles an hour. The Cleveland pair arrived in New York with one
million New York citizens to greet them. The New York Mayor remarked,
"This trip of The Plain Dealer has opened the
eyes of America to the possibilities of the automobile as a practical
carriage for road work. It will have much to do with the rapid
advancement of motor carriages in this country." The reporter
recounted his new accounts of the journey, frequently using the
term "automobile", helping to establish a name for this
new mode of transportation.
On February 11, 1924, the Winton Company stopped producing automobiles after a failure to adapt to the public's increasing desire for a medium-priced car. However, the Winton name lives on with Winton Avenue in Lakewood, and the hi-rise residential building, Winton Place, which stands on the site of "Roseneath," Alexander Winton's Lakewood home.
Richard Wager, Golden Wheels