One of the Earliest US Car Companies Was Founded by a Formerly Enslaved Man

C.R. Patterson & Sons, the first African American-owned auto manufacturer, didn’t produce many of its hand-built cars—by some estimates, only a few dozen between 1915 and 1918. The company’s signature Patterson-Greenfield car, advertised as a “sensibly priced” roadster with “every convenience and every luxury known to car manufacture,” had launched into some serious competitive headwinds.

Two years earlier, in 1913, automotive titan Henry Ford had introduced the moving assembly line at his Ford Motor Company. And by 1915, his mechanized factory was pumping out hundreds of thousands of Model T cars annually, priced far less than Patterson-Greenfield’s bespoke roadster, which sold for between $685 and $850. While the tiny Ohio firm created a beautiful, well-made vehicle, it couldn’t compete against Detroit’s burgeoning industry giants on efficiency, or on price.

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