C. R. Patterson and Sons may not be a familiar name to many, but this small automobile manufacturer is the first and only Black-owned car company. Charles Richard Patterson was born enslaved on a Virginia plantation in 1833. Twenty eight years later, in 1861, Charles escaped the plantation and traveled to Greenfield, Ohio, to begin a new life as a free man. In 1873, he partnered with carriage manufacturer J.P. Lowe and began the successful business of manufacturing horse carriages. Charles then bought out Lowe’s shares of the business and re-established the company as C. R. Patterson and Sons in 1893, with his oldest son Frederick taking on more of an ownership role.
In 1910, Charles Richard Patterson died and left the business to Frederick, who quickly began converting the company into an automobile manufacturer. The hard work of shifting the scope of the business culminated in the introduction of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile in 1915. It was sold for $685 and featured a four-cylinder Continental engine that competed with Ford’s Model T.
Unfortunately, like many smaller automobile manufacturers of this time, C. R. Patterson and Sons could neither match the speed of Ford’s manufacturing nor its economies of scale. This led to another strategy change for C.R. Patterson and Sons, which started creating trucks and busses using Ford and General Motors chassis for the next several years. In 1939 after the Great Depression, C. R. Patterson and Sons was forced to close its doors for the last time.
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