Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fredonia Manufacturing Company

Many of us think the Mahoning Valley’s history of automobile manufacturing began in the 1960’s at GM’s Lordstown Assembly Plant. Actually, the history of automobile manufacturing in Youngstown goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century–and maybe a little before.

The Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Company was a carriage builder with a factory just east of the Market Street bridge near the present location of the Covelli Center. In 1895, Dr. Carlos Booth, a local physician, commissioned the company to build him an automobile that he had designed. They helped him become the world’s first doctor to use an automobile to make house calls–a Youngstown first. He eventually gave it up, claiming it made “a commotion among the horses.”

In 1902, the company changed its name to The Fredonia Manufacturing Company and started making automobiles. In their first year, Fredonia automobiles came in “neck and neck” claiming the top two spots in a 500 mile reliability run from New York to Boston. A Packard was also among the top finishers. Then in 1903, a Fredonia set an unofficial speed record on a run between Youngstown and Tyrell Hill, covering the 36 mile distance in 35 minutes, nearly 62 miles per hour or 100 kilometers per hour. Pretty fast in 1903!

The reliability and speed of the cars reflected the work of the company’s engineer, Charles T. Gaither, who also worked as a pressman for The Vindicator, where he invented a process for photo engraving pictures for printing. The engine he designed was a single cylinder 5 inch piston with a 5 inch stroke. The engine was flat mounted, water-cooled, and set up as a mid-engine design, just in front of the rear axle, with a two speed planetary gear transmission.

The company manufactured both a two seat touring car and a five seat tonneau. In all they built about 200 cars between 1902 and 1904 when the company went bankrupt. The factory where they were built was destroyed in a fire in 1907.

Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share, records that Charles Stewart, who was known for many years as “Youngstown’s safest driver” bought his first car in 1904, a five seat Fredonia. He sold it a year later, but it continued to appear in parades, running under its own power for 75 years.

We may think that Detroit was a good place to build cars, but Youngstown has a century-plus history of building cars. Now it is electric vehicles and batteries at Lordstown. We’ll see if the Mahoning Valley will become a new “Motor City.”

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fredonia Manufacturing Company

  1. I was aware of Warren’s Packard brothers’ early involvement in car manufacturing, but had not heard of Youngstown’s own Fredonia brand. Thanks, as always, for the enlightenment.

    Liked by 1 person

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