The incredible story of the slave who founded his car brand to compete with Ford

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Virginia, one of the original thirteen colonies in United States of America. The territory from which the Constitution of an ever-expanding nation emerged. One of the enclaves of slavery. There, in captivity, a man was born in 1833 who wrote his own story about him, although some gaps remained along the way: how he got free, whether it was a purchase or an escape. What is known is that Charles Richard Pattersonas it was called, it drew an ascending curve: up He was the first African American to own a car brand..

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He gave the company his personal stamp. As reckless as he was, the company came to compete with him. Ford when the Detroit house had already launched the Model T which gave a change to the sector. without its structures the Patterson-Greenfield was encouraged to measure himself against the legend.

In 1831, Nat Turner led a rebellion that was part political, part messianic. It began on a day of solar eclipse in Virginia, a divine sign, and ended hours later in white carnage. Turner himself fell two months later and was executed. The Civil War, which pitted the Abolitionist Union against the Slave-Owning Confederacy, was still decades away. of those plantationsof those harsh conditions, The most unusual rival for Ford has come out.

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Patterson left the field. He arrived in Ohio, a haven for those escaping the shackles. He perfected his craft as a blacksmith and became a small businessman. Almost two centuries later, he is still remembered as an example of that country that was beginning to create its own myth: a self-made man who, with the sweat of his brow, built the United States.

Charles Richard Patterson, from the plantations to challenge Ford

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. They are the 13 founders who turned their backs on Great Britain and waged – with the help of other European powers – war. In 1776, US independence did not mean individual independence. The first slaves had arrived in Virginia from Angola in 1619.

Charles Richard Patterson, the slave who founded his car brand to compete with Ford

In 1860, just before the Civil War began, there were nearly 500,000 slaves in the tobacco and grain region alone, according to estimates by the State Museum of History and Culture. The institution remained in effect until five years later, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution formally ended the conflict of secession which lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Patterson’s arrival in Greenfield, Ohio dates from that time., abolitionist and a kind of promised land. According to some documents, he entered between the 40s and 50s, after his father Charles and his mother Nancy will buy freedom. Others, on the other hand, turn to the individual enterprise: the secret plan, the escape in 1861, the blisters on the feet and the danger lurking. This is the version that supports the official story.

“He went through the Allegheny Mountains, he went through West Virginia and the Ohio River,” notes the African American Registry. According to this reconstruction, Charles did not travel the road north himself, but traveled the “underground railway” (underground railway). That was his name the network of roads hidden from southern slavers through which groups of collaborators organized themselves to make the slaves escape. Contrary to what the name indicates, there were no underground trains or paths. It was a safe plot with intermediate stations (the homes of collaborators; hence its comparison with the railway network that was expanding in those years), where fugitives could find refuge in transit towards freedom.

One of the horse drawn wagons Patterson sold when he started his company.

One of the horse drawn wagons Patterson sold when he started his company.

The first settlers of Greenfield, one of the terminals of the network, were migrants from the slave states. In 1860 the town already had 1,500 inhabitants. Although framed by the rural landscape, the town had a few horse-drawn cart factories. Patterson joined one of them, Dines & Simpson, to work as a locksmith. The company was dedicated to supplying area farmers, although it began manufacturing a few recreational vehicles after the war. In 1876 a powerful rival appeared, Sayers and Scovill, specialized in hearses (at the beginning of the 1900s it adopted the internal combustion engine). By then, Charles Richard had enjoyed a second independence.

Together with another blacksmith, JP Lowe, he began his own production in 1873.. Finally, twenty years later, he bought out his partner and renamed the firm CR Patterson & Sons. He was already married to Josephine Utz and had five children. The “Sons” really should be singular: only one of them, Samuel (the youngest son), was involved with the company on a daily basis. However, in 1897 he fell ill and then Federico became the protagonist.

Fred’s invention that wanted to overshadow the Detroit giant

Frederick Douglass Patterson was born in 1871 in Greenfield.. The eldest male, the customs and aspirations of the time reserved him a privileged place, even if not without difficulty. “Fred” was educated at the local high school due to his father’s protest to be admitted and then continued his education at Ohio State University, where he was registered as the first African American to be a member of the Ohio State football team. . He dropped out in his senior year and worked as a teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, the same place where Muhammad Ali was born nearly 40 years later. That’s where the news of Samuel’s illness arrived, which made him return to Ohio to help his father, now 64 years old.

Then, Patterson & Sons made 28 types of horse-drawn vehicles, ranging in price from $120 to $150.. She established herself as a fine carriage assembler and was also engaged in repairs. When he was in control, Frederick wanted to take it to another level.

CR Patterson and car brochure.

CR Patterson and car brochure.

Before there were moments of pain. His younger brother, Samuel, died in 1899. He was only 23 years old. In 1910 Charles Richard died at the age of 77. The eldest son was left in charge of the factory. He decided it was time to equip his carriages with a combustion engine.

After months of preparations, On 23 September 1915 Patterson-Greenfield was put up for sale.. The chassis was self-built, faithful to the family tradition, but the engine was a Continental brand, four cylinders and 30 HP. It had electric ignition, an innovation that set it apart from the already older hand-started vehicles. “Service. A rigorously made-to-measure car. Reliability”, has been promoted in the ads. It also promised a permanent stock of spare parts and guaranteed repairs from engine to roof.

There were two variants: Touring (open body, four seats) or Roadster (two-seater convertible). Both versions cost $685 then, today about $20,500. It wasn’t prohibitively expensive, but it was still old-fashioned versus the $400 they’re charging for a brand-new Model T.

When Patterson-Greenfield lost to the Model T, the company began marketing heavy-duty vehicles.

When Patterson-Greenfield lost to the Model T, the company began marketing heavy-duty vehicles.

Greenfield and Detroit are separated by 330 kilometers. Even the Patterson and Ford firms were light years apart in industrial development. The great innovation that the Model T brought in 1912 hadn’t come to Ohio: the assembly line. Without it, the volume of production was small, and the absence of large scale nullified the possibility of reducing prices. Despite this, Fred managed to build 150 cars before mixing and hustling again.

By 1918 it was evident that there was no viable competition against Detroit manufacturing, with hundreds of thousands of units a year. Federico must have imagined a timeless phrase: if you can’t beat your enemy, join him. Thus, he abandoned private cars. Greenfield Bus Body Company, as the company was renamed, specializing in commercial trucks, hearses and school buses. Built with competitor and General Motors parts, they’ve hit the roads in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia.

Frederick died in 1932. He is remembered as a prominent black militant, a member of the local Republican Party and even a member of Freemasonry. He left the company to his son Postell, who due to financial problems moved it to Gallia County, about 110 kilometers southeast on the border with West Virginia. The Gallia Body Company did not survive the harsh decade of the 1930s: it lowered its shutters in 1939. It was the end of the adventure that his grandfather started some 80 years earlier. An individual journey that has left slavery behind and entered a new world, with engine roar, speed and an open challenge to Ford.

Source: Clarin

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