Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 16


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

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