Stearns Steam Carriage Company

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Stearns Steam Carriage Company
Automobile Manufacturing
GenreRunabout, Stanhope
FatePoor performing vehicles
FounderEdward Carl Stearns
Area served
United States
Automotive parts
ParentE. C. Stearns & Company

Stearns Steam Carriage Company (1901–1904) was a manufacturer of steam automobiles in Syracuse, New York, founded by Edward C. Stearns, an industrialist.[1] Stearns built his first automobile in 1899, an electric which sold so few models through 1900 that the firm changed to steam power in 1901 when the company was incorporated.[2] The company was also known as the Stearns Automobile Company.[3]


Stearns Electric - 1900

The Stearns Steam Carriage Company, established in 1901, should not be confused with the F. B. Stearns and Company (later F.B. Stearns Company) a manufacturer of luxury cars in Cleveland, Ohio marketed under the brand names Stearns and Stearns-Knight. The company also had a factory in Syracuse.[4]

Stearns electric[edit]

Edward C. Stearns owned a hardware store in Syracuse. By the early 1890s E. C. Stearns & Company had branched into bicycle manufacturing with his E. C. Stearns Bicycle Agency which was founded in 1893.[2]

Stearns moved into automobile production after building his first car in 1899. The prototype was built by J. S. Leggett and Stearn's engineer, F. L. Corey, and was an electric model. It was entered in the New York Automobile Show and won first prize that year.[5] The automobile sold so few models through 1900 that the company changed to steam power in 1901.[2]

Stearns steamer[edit]

By early February 1901, Herbert E. Maslin, treasurer, announced the company would have steam carriages on the market for the spring trade. He noted that the new factory was operating "with a large force of men." The work of "setting the vehicles ready for the trade" was progressing rapidly. A number of automobile dealers had recently visited the factory and were pleased with the equipment and goods manufactured at the plant. The company extensively remodeled the building formerly occupied by The Frontenac Company, a bicycle manufacturer of which George M. Barnes and Austin M. Dickinson were affiliated.[6]

The Stearns "Steamer" was designed by George Barnes, of Barnes Cycle Company in 1899. Investors contributed $450,000 and the company incorporated in early 1901. By the end of 1901, they had produced 100 vehicles.[2]

The bodies were manufactured by Currier, Cameron and Company of Amesbury, Massachusetts.[2]

Stearns Steam Stanhope - Self-propelled vehicles: a practical treatise on the theory, 1902

Compound engine[edit]

The compound engine used on the Stearns Steam Carriage was one of the most typical and efficient of its class. The high-pressure cylinder is 2.5-inch (64 mm) in diameter, by 3.5-inch (89 mm) stroke, and the low-pressure cylinder 3-inch (76 mm) in diameter by 3.5-inch (89 mm) stroke. Each cylinder develops 2​34 horsepower when running compound, and about double that when running simple. The engine is built on the usual plan of the double-cylinder steam carriage engine, each cylinder being controlled by piston valves of the usual construction. The valve chest also contains inserts or liners, which increase the accuracy of the parts and permit ready adjustment when the old liners are worn by use.[7]

Hickory wood frame[edit]

The car was equipped with a "compound" engine, however; the Stearns carriages contained several excellent features in addition to the engine, among which was a strong and simple under frame, which, instead of the usual tubular construction had the front and rear axle connected with reach rods made of hickory wood. This permitted a degree of flexibility the manufacturers considered impossible with any steel construction, while at the same time, dispensing with the complicated swivel joints used on most other carriages.[7]

Stearns Steamer - 7 H. P. only $300 - The Motor Way, Volume 12, 1903
Stearns Steam Carriage with perch rods of hickory wood - Self-propelled vehicles, 1902

Road contest[edit]

Stearns entered a 1,500 pounds (680 kg) model with an 8-horsepower engine in the "reliability contest" of the Automobile Club of America. The contest took place on October 9, 1902, with a total of 72 entries. Stearns was one of 17 steam vehicles in the contest.[8]

It was determined that the gasoline vehicle was the most popular on account of its "greater cheapness in fuel consumption, which is but a quarter or a third of that of the steam car." Aside from the matter of economy of operating, the gasoline car was much easier and simpler to run than the steam carriage. The former is also ready to use at any time, while it takes a few minutes to raise steam in the steam car when the boiler is cold. On the other hand, the ignition devices of the gasoline car requires more attention, while in the steam vehicle the batteries and coils are replaced by a small supply of alcohol and some matches.[8]

The Stearns Steam Carriage was in competition in the steam category with White Sewing Machine Company, Grout Brothers, Locomobile Company of America, Prescott Automobile Manufacturing Company, Foster Automobile Manufacturing Company and Lane Motor Vehicle Company.[8]

Auto shows[edit]

The company turned out a large number of machines in 1901 and its exhibit at the Pan-American exposition was successful.[9]

The Boston Automobile Show opened on October 15, 1901, with 50 carriages on display. Stearns Steam Carriage Company was one of the exhibitors. They also entered the New York Automobile Show in Madison Square Garden in November 1901.[4]

Company officers[edit]

Stearns Steam Carriage Company, 1903

By February 1903, Edward Carl Stearns, president and founder of the Stearns Steam Carriage Company, reported that the company was running at full capacity.[10]

Edward C. Stearns founded several other manufacturing plants in Syracuse including E. C. Stearns & Company (hardware), E. C. Stearns Bicycle Agency, Wholesale Bi-steam Carriage Company and Stearns Automobile Company or Stearns Steam Carriage Company.[11]

George Mortimer Barnes was vice-president and treasurer of Stearns Steam Carriage Company.[11]

Company failure[edit]

During its short life, Stearns Steam Carriage Company only built a total of 15 or 20 cars with steam generators. Edward C. Stearns did not have luck with his vehicle. The steam carriages he built were known to strand their passengers "some distance out of town" and it generally took a towing job to bring them back to the repair shop.[12]

One of Stearns business partners, Edward Pennington, was of questionable character and by 1903 the company had gone "downhill" and the assets were sold for US$600. Stearns closed the automobile division in 1904[1] and returned to the hardware supply business. In later years, he owned an automobile dealership.[2]

Diagrams and documents[edit]

Stearns Automobile Company of Syracuse, New York - Public offering - New York Times, October 6, 1901
Stearns Steam Carriage Company - Inclosed Compound Engine - The Horseless Age, December 18, 1901
Stearns Compound Engine - Self-propelled vehicles, 1902
Stearns Compound Engine detail - Self-propelled vehicles, 1902


  1. ^ a b Automobile Manufacturers Starting With The Letter S. American Automobiles, Farber and Associates, LLC - 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "1900 Stearns Electric". Early American Automobiles, 2010. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
  3. ^ Avis Stearns Van Wagenen. Stearns genealogy and memoirs, Volume 2. Courier Printing Co., Syracuse, New York, July 1, 1901. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  4. ^ a b The Horseless age: the automobile trade magazine, Volume 8. E. P. Ingersoll, New York, New York, 1901. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  5. ^ "Automobile Spurred Growth of Central N.Y. Industry". Farber and Associates, LLC 2009-2011. January 10, 1984.
  6. ^ "Stearns Steam Carriage". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. February 3, 1901.
  7. ^ a b Homans, James Edward. Self-propelled vehicles: a practical treatise on the theory. Theo, Audel & Co., New York - 1902. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  8. ^ a b c Automobile Topics of Interest (PDF). The New York Times, New York - September 28, 1902. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  9. ^ "Wheels Hum in Midsummer an Unprecedented Era of Prosperity". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. July 14, 1901.
  10. ^ Motor age, Volume 5. The Trade Press Co., Chicago, Illinois, 1903. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  11. ^ a b Notable Men of Central New York. Dwight J. Stoddard, 1903. Retrieved 2010-08-14.
  12. ^ "Local Autos Once Sold Widely". Syracuse Journal. Syracuse, New York. March 20, 1939.

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