When we think about the automobile industry today, the main car manufactures we think of are ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler just to name a few. Many people aren’t aware of the fact that there has only been one African American automobile company in this county. The C.R Patterson & son’s company starting out as a carriage building firm in 1873. The founder of the company, Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery in 1833 on a plantation in Virginia. There’s conflicting information available about how Patterson got out of slavery. In 1861, some believe he escaped others believe his family headed west and settled in Greenfield, Ohio, in any case, he was now a free man and would begin his adult life in Ohio. After working as a blacksmith for the carriage building business, Dines & Simpson, Patterson decided to go into business for himself.
In 1873, he would partner with a man named J.P Lowe to create their own carriage building business. Over the next twenty years, they would create a highly successful business, but in 1893, Patterson would by J.P Lowe’s shares of the company and renamed it, C.R Patterson & Son’s. The company built 28 types of horse-drawn vehicles and employed between 10-15 people. Even though they were successfully manufacturing horse-powered carriage times were changing and in order to remain competitive, they had to change with the times.
In 1910, C.R Patterson would die and his son, Frederick Patterson would take over the company who was responsible for converting the company from a carriage business to a automobile manufacturer. The first Patterson-Greenfield car was released in 1915 and sold for $850. With a four-cylinder Continental engine, the car was comparable to the Ford Model T, some even believe C.R Patterson began making automobiles before Henry Ford and his were considered more sophisticated but because of racial politics and a lack of resources, Patterson doesn’t get much credit. It’s estimated that C.R Patterson & Son’s would manufacture between 30-150 vehicles.
In the 1920s, it became difficult for them to compete with the bigger companies that were operating out of Detroit and were able to produce vehicles at a much faster rate. The stay in business they halted production on all automobiles and focused on building trucks and bus bodies to be fitted on chassis created by other manufactures. In 1929, the stock market crashed, and the great depression took place making it difficult to get sales and for potential buyers to obtain loans. The company, now ruin by Fredrick Patterson son’s, finally closed their doors in 1939 after 74 years in business. The story of the C.R Patterson & Son’s company is another example of the great individuals that make up the history of Melanated men and women in this country. In the face of racism and exclusion they were able to create something so remarkable, it’s still worth talking about today. Let this be a lesson to all of us, there is no substitution for hard work, determination, and focus.