Buckeye gasoline buggy

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Buckeye Gasoline Buggy 1891.png
The 1891 Buckeye Gasoline Buggy
Model years1891
DesignerJohn William Lambert, inventor

The Buckeye gasoline buggy or Lambert gasoline buggy was the first practical gasoline automobile available for sale in America,[1] according to automobile historians.[2]


John William Lambert made America's first such automobile in 1891,[3] according to a five-year extensive study[4][5] by L. Scott Bailey, a well-known automobile historian, editor, and publisher.[6] The study found substantial evidence to enter this claim on Lambert's behalf.[7] The evidence from Bailey's study shows that Lambert designed, built, and ran a gasoline engine automobile in the early part of 1891 that he put on the market.[8][9] It shows that neither Henry Ford nor the Duryea Brothers have the distinction of building the first such practical working internal combustion gasoline engine automobile in the United States.[10][11] In Europe Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler produced the first gasoline automobiles in 1885/1886.[12][13] The Duryea brothers made their automobile in 1893 and started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1895 mass-producing cars.[13] Henry Ford started mass-producing cars in 1899 at the Detroit Automobile Company.

Lambert initially designed and built his "horseless carriage" gasoline automobile in 1890.[14] He successfully tested it in January 1891 inside an 80-foot (24 m) farm implement showroom he owned in Ohio City, Ohio.[15] Lambert's three-wheeled surrey-top gasoline-powered buggy was his own design. It had a single cylinder, four-stroke engine. This, the Buckeye gasoline buggy, was a one-seat tricycle with large rear wheels.[16]

Lambert designed a sales brochures advertising its specifications in January 1891. He mailed this brochure out to prospects in the first part of February 1891 with a price of $550.[17] Later in the month of February 1891 he was running his automobile[18] on the main street of Ohio City.[19] Bailey points out there are several letters on file dated in the latter part of February and the early part of March 1891 requesting additional information on this "horseless carriage" that Lambert described in the brochure. Other letters of inquire continued, however Lambert ultimately was not able to sell any.[20]

This first model had a wipe spark ignition and dry cell batteries. The automobile had two speeds forward and none going backwards. A hand steering device was added later when the automobile was used outside on the roads. The weight of the car was 585 pounds. It had wooden wheels with steel rims for extra wear. The carburetor was a surface vaporizer with a flexible diaphragm "compensator." This was patented by Lambert on May 17, 1902. The original model cost Lambert $3200. In 1904 it was lost in a fire when a grain elevator building that he was having remodeled burned to the ground.[21]

In 1892 Lambert decided to manufacture stationary gasoline engines. He moved to Anderson, Indiana, and there started Buckeye Manufacturing Company. In that same year he announced he would "soon have a gasoline vehicle on the market" to be called the Buckeye. He sent a picture to the newspapers, which was of the Buckeye gasoline buggy he made in 1891. This endeavor also did not come to fruition. Instead he continued experimentation and devised the friction gearing disk drive transmission. He invented and developed a friction transmission that would be the key feature on all of his future automobiles he would make. Lambert's first model design of 1891 was eventually modified and developed into the Union automobile which first was sold in 1902.[21]


Lambert Days[22] is a community celebrating that honors the life of John W. Lambert, the first gasoline-powered single-cylinder vehicle, and the world's first car wreck. This is an annual three-day event that takes place in Ohio City, Ohio on the third weekend of July. Activities and events: Car Show, Art Festival, Flea Market, Sporting Events, Parade, Live Entertainment, and Lambert Automobile Displays.

Others before Duryea[edit]

In the late nineteenth century, there were many individuals in the United States working on a "horseless carriage", some of which paralleled the time frame of Lambert. Some notable individuals with verifiable primary sources that invented such vehicles before the Duryea brothers were Henry Nadig, Charles H. Black, and Elwood P. Haynes.

Henry Nadig[edit]

Henry Nadig of Allentown, Pennsylvania invented a vehicle that history records he built sometime between 1891 and 1893. In 1905, Nadig reports that he began to construct a "horseless carriage" in 1891 and when he finished it, he then ran it on Fourth Street in Allentown.[23] The original 1891 vehicle was extensively modified in the winter of 1892–93 to the point it could be almost considered a different vehicle.[24] This vehicle was driven "for pleasure" for the next ten years.[25] As of 1992, this vehicle was owned by a David K. Bausch of Allentown. About 70% of the original vehicle still existed, however it was in "rough" condition and needed complete restoration. The historical importance of this particular vehicle is that it may be the oldest America-made gasoline-powered automobile that still exists.[26]

Charles H. Black[edit]

Charles H. Black reported that he completed and tested his first steam engine "chug buggy" in 1891. He rejected a steam engine "as too cumbersome and hard to manage" for use in an automobile.[27] He then went about making a gasoline engine vehicle. Later in 1891 he then tried such a "horseless carriage" out in Indianapolis on the paved streets of Circle and Delaware. He drove this vehicle around Indianapolis for the next twenty years. A business card of C.H. Black Manufacturing Company showed a picture of this vehicle with the writing "Estimates furnished for power-equipped vehicles of any style." The business card was dated 1892.[28]

Elwood P. Haynes[edit]

Elwood P. Haynes, who successfully made his trial run of his automobile on July 4, 1894, arranged a meeting with Lambert shortly thereafter. He told Lambert, a close friend of his, that he planned on manufacturing the car and wanted to advertise it as "America's First Car" to be able to promote sales.[29] Lambert agreed not to refute this even though Lambert's three-wheeled automobile is considered to be the first successful gasoline automobile available for sale in the United States.[30][31] He let his friend Haynes take the honors.[32] A mistake Haynes made was that the Duryea brothers and others predated him. Lambert never broke his promise to his friend, however when he went into production he often made reference to his "1891" gasoline engine horseless carriage buggy but never said it was "America's First Car" made.[33] The Smithsonian Institution has not declared Lambert the inventor of the first commercially available self-powered gasoline engine automobile because he himself never made this claim.

Others with prior patents[edit]

Selden 1895 "road-engine" invention

George B. Selden[edit]

George B. Selden applied for a patent on a vehicle in 1879 of an "improved road engine" based on a compression engine that used liquid-hydrocarbon fuel (i.e. gasoline). The patent covered the basics of constructing a horseless carriage of a self-propelled automobile, however he had not actually built such a vehicle. Selden worked off the principles of George Brayton's two-cycle gasoline engine patented in 1872.[34] Blayton had exhibited his engine at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and Selden then decided to use that engine or a modified version of it as the basis for a patent. He went about drawing up a model of a vehicle and applied for a patent strictly based on the drawing alone.[35] Selden then used legal evasive tactics to stall the patent's acceptance each year making minor amendments until he felt it was favorable for commercial production of the American automobile. The idea behind this was that he wanted to secure the claim of being the first to have invented the automobile and get the seventeen-year legal rights to all the automobile royalties.[36][37] He legally stalled the process until he was forced to complete the application process. This was sixteen years after he first applied for the patent[38] and a few months before the actual mass-production of automobiles by car manufactures.[39] History records of automobile technology do not support his claim as being the first to have invented the automobile because at the time he was issued the patent Selden had not been able to make a working model.[40] This evasion and stalling of finalizing a patent then had much influence as to how future automobile patents were handled from then on.[41]

Frank A. Huntington[edit]

Huntington "vehicle" 1889 invention

A "vehicle" was patented by a F. A. Huntington of San Francisco on January 11, 1889.[42] This was about six months after Carl Benz received a patent in the United States for a "self-propelling vehicle."[43] There seems to be no further record if Huntington built his 1889 gasoline engine vehicle or if there was a west coast sales distribution of the vehicle before 1891.[44] Huntington's 1889 patent was four years before the Duryea brothers built their first car in 1893. Huntington's patent number 411,196 states:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Anderson's Automobile Age". Archived from the original on 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  2. ^ Bailey, pp 342 As an automotive historian, I have always been intrigued with the adventure, though clouded and somewhat frusted at times, as to who was the very first to produce a gasoline automobile for sale in the United States. One of the objectives of our society's publication, the ANTIQUE AUTOMOBILE, is to unearth undiscovered and unpublished automotive history. The controversial dispute between the Duryea brothers, the myriad of other independent claims by various one-of-a-kind automobile inventors, plus the extreme difficulty of obtaining complete records on some 300 horseless carriages that were constructed up to 1895 makes the road of research almost as impassable as the main street of Ohio City where, in 1891, Lambert drove his first automobile. It has taken almost five years to ferret out substantial evidence in order to enter a claim for America's first automobile on behalf of John William Lambert.
  3. ^ "Famous Automobile Makers". Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  4. ^ "John W. Lambert built one of America's first successful automobiles in 1891". Retrieved 2008-12-19.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, The magazine Antique Automobile, after five years of investigation, announced its conviction that the Duryea Brothers had not been the first United States internal combustion automobile, and that this distinction should be assigned to a car built in 1890 and run in 1891 by John William Lambert of Ohio City, Ohio.
  6. ^ Bailey, p. 341–345
  7. ^ Scharchburg, p. 22 To L. Scott Bailey, well-known historian, editor, and publisher, belongs the credit for collecting and publishing the evidence that relates to the 1891 Lambert automobile. His findings were published in 1960 "Antique Automobile" after nearly five years research.
  8. ^ Huffman, Wallace Spencer, Indiana's Place in Automobile History, "Indiana History Bulletin", vol. 44, no. 2, Feb. 1967, p. 12; Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau. John W. Lambert has been credited with making a gasoline powered automobile as early as 1891, which he drove in Ohio City, Ohio.
  9. ^ Anderson Sunday Herald newspaper; Anderson, Indiana; November 16, 1958 In 1891 John Lambert, as an experiment and for amusement, built and operated a gasoline car in Ohio City, Ohio. The experimental car was more a buggy than automobile, but it was propelled by a gasoline engine.
  10. ^ The Daily Chronicle, Centralia, Washington dated Friday, December 24, 1976, page 8. "The heart of free enterprise". The history of the development of the automobile is the history of business innovators in our society, pioneers on a technological frontier. One of these pioneers, whose story should be more widely known, is John William Lambert of Ohio. Though the Duryea Brothers are usually credited with building the first successful automobile, John Lambert was driving a gasoline-powered automobile on the main street of Ohio City, Ohio — a year earlier than the Duryeas produced their vehicle.
  11. ^ James, p. 6 Ford, in fact, stood well behind in the race to produce the first successful automobile. John W. Lambert of Ohio had already been driving his three-wheeled, gas-powered car back in 1891; Charles and Frank Duryea built their first car in 1893 and won America's first automobile race in Chicago in 1895; Elwood Haynes drove his vehicle in 1894, and Charles B. King of Detroit was seen driving his in 1896, six months before Henry's car was ready.
  12. ^ "Automobile History - Famous Automobile Makers". Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  13. ^ a b "The History of the First Cars". Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  14. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 1968, Volume 2, p. 867 The magazine "Antique Automobile", after five years of investigation, announced its conviction that the Duryea Brothers had not been the first United States internal combustion automobile, and that this distinction should be assigned to a car built in 1890 and run in 1891 by John William Lambert of Ohio City, Ohio.
  15. ^ Madden, p. 2 L. Scott Bailey, the respected former editor of "Automobile Quarterly", declared in a 1960 article that the Lambert built by John William Lambert in 1891 in Ohio City, Ohio, was the first practical, working automobile built in the United States. While the Lambert effort was not documented prior to its use, it is better documented by other means than most early automobiles.
  16. ^ Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877–1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.6.
  17. ^ Kimes, p. 835
  18. ^ Anderson Sunday Herald newspaper; Anderson, Indiana; November 16, 1958 In 1891 John Lambert built and operated a gasoline car in Ohio City, Ohio. The experimental car was more a buggy than automobile, but it was propelled by a gasoline engine.
  19. ^ Bailey, p. 343 Lambert was convinced that he had a workable engine to power his three-wheel carriage and he set forth specifications and a price of $550 in a sales brochure which was mailed during the first part of February of 1891. Later that month, the automobile was running with the new stirrup-type steering on the main street of Ohio City.
  20. ^ Bailey, p. 343 It is interesting to record that several letters are on file dated in the latter part of February and early March of 1891 requesting additional information on the Lambert car. Although the letters of inquiry continued, no sales contracts were signed for the Lambert. Lambert soon realized that there was no sales potential for his automobile.
  21. ^ a b Dolnar, vol.10, Jan. 1906, p. 225
  22. ^ Bigham, Scott. "Lambert Days". Ohio City Park Board. Facebook. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  23. ^ Scharchburg, p. 18 In 1905 Henry Nadig affirmed that he had begun to build a vehicle in 1891 and that he ran it on Fourth Street in Allentown when it was finished.
  24. ^ Scharchburg, p. 16 The vehicle was modified in 1892–93 to the point that it could almost be considered a second vehicle.
  25. ^ Scharchburg, p. 18 The 1891 vehicle was modified in the winter of 1892–93 and driven "for pleasure" until 1903.
  26. ^ Scharchburg, p. 19
  27. ^ Scharchburg, p. 26 According to his own account published in the Indianapolis News in 1913 and in the American Chauffeur in 1916, he completed and tested his first "chug buggy" in 1891. Black recalled that, after rejecting a steam engine "as too cumbersome and hard to manage" for use in an automobile, he continued to search for a suitable engine.
  28. ^ Scharchburg, p. 28
  29. ^ Kimes, p. 835 Elwood P. Haynes, who had successfully tested his first gasoline car in Kokomo (Indiana) on July 4th, 1894, visited Lambert and announced that he planned to get into manufacture and to bill his product as "America's First Car."
  30. ^ Madden, p. 14 Haynes had heard about another motorcar that was made before his by John W. Lambert in Ohio. Haynes visited the Ohio inventor to tell him that he was planning to market his own automobile and to call it "America's first car." He obtained Lambert's promise not to dispute Haynes' claim.
  31. ^ G.N. Georgano, p. 853 John William Lambert made a 3-wheeled car in Ohio City in 1891, which is generally considered to be the first petrol-engined car made in the United States. It received little publicity, since, when Elwood Haynes wanted to promote his car in 1894 as "America's First Car", he extracted a promise from John Lambert that he would not challenge the Haynes claim. Lambert agreed as at that time he was not interested in car manufacture.
  32. ^ Huhti, p. 59 Locals claim that one John Lambert of Union City actually built the first functional automobile; apparently he was such a good friend of Kokomo's Elwood Haynes that he let his friend take credit.
  33. ^ Kimes, p. 835 And he never did, though when Lambert did get into manufacture, frequent reference was made by him to the fact of the 1891 gasoline car; he simply did not say he was the first.
  34. ^ Brayton Patent number: 125166 Improvement in gas-engines
  35. ^ Rubenstein, p. 11
  36. ^ Flink, p. 51 Probably the most absurb action in the history of patent law was the granting of United States patent number 549,160 on November 5, 1895, to George B. Selden. a Rockester, New York, patent lawyer and inventor, for an "improved road engine" powered by "a liguid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type."
  37. ^ Flink, p. 51 His own patent application was filed in 1879. He then used evasive legal tactics to delay the patent's acceptance until conditions seemed favorable for commercial exploitation.
  38. ^ Flink, p. 52 His hand was forced in 1895 - in part because the patent office was tightening its rules on delayed applications, but more because events indicated that the time was now ripe for implementing the automobile idea.
  39. ^ Rubenstein, p. 11 Because a patent is issued for only seventeen years, Selden made minor changes and amendments to his application every year to delay its formal registration until November 5, 1895, a few months before the start of commercial motor vehicle production in the United States.
  40. ^ Flink, p. 52 Selden had not yet built an operational model of his design when the patent was issued; and, as we have seen, the state of the prior technological art in no sense supported his allegation of priority.
  41. ^ Flink, p. 10 The Selden patent engendered a bitter organizational conflict in the early American automobile industry and profoundly influenced the industry's subsequent patent policy.
  42. ^ Frank A. Huntington "Vehicle"
  43. ^ Carl Benz "Self-propelling vehicle"
  44. ^ Scharchburg, p. 30
  45. ^ Frank A. Huntington "Vehicle" 1889

Primary sources[edit]

  • Biography of John W. Lambert, written by his son January 25, 1935 — obtained from the Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection
  • Dolnar, Hugh, Automobile Trade Journal, article: The Lambert, 1906 Line of Automobiles, Chilton Company, v.10 January 1906
  • Forkner, John L., History of Madison County, Indiana, New York and Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1914
  • The Horseless Age: The Automobile Trade Magazine, The Horseless Age Company, 1902

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Bailey, L. Scott, Historic Discovery: 1891 Lambert, New Claim for America's First Car, Antique Automobile magazine, Vol. 24, No. 5, Oct–Nov 1960
  • David Burgess Wise, The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Automobiles ISBN 0-7858-1106-0
  • Dittlinger, Esther et al., Anderson: A Pictorial History, G. Bradley Publishing, 1990, ISBN 0-943963-16-8
  • Flink, James J., The Automobile Age, MIT Press (1990), ISBN 0-262-56055-0
  • Georgano, G. N., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 1-57958-293-1
  • Huffman, Wallace Spencer, Indiana's Place in Automobile History in Indiana History Bulletin, vol 44, no. 2, Feb. 1967; Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau
  • Huhti, Thomas, The Great Indiana Touring Book: 20 Spectacular Auto Tours, Big Earth Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-931599-09-2
  • James, Wanda, Driving from Japan, McFarland, 2005, ISBN 0-7864-1734-X
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942, Krause Publications, 1996, ISBN 0-87341-428-4
  • Madden, W. C., Haynes-Apperson and America's First Practical Automobile: A History, McFarland, 2003, ISBN 0-7864-1397-2
  • Rubenstein, James M., Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8018-6714-2
  • Scharchburg, Richard P., Carriages Without Horses: J. Frank Duryea and the Birth of the American Automobile Industry, SAE, 1993, ISBN 1-56091-380-0