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October 21, 1897 – Autocar, the oldest surviving American vehicle company, is founded

Louis Semple Clarke completed his first vehicle in mid-1897. He named the three wheeled, one-cylinder gas engine powered buggy Autocar No. 1. It immediately became apparent to the inventor how important the automobile would become. LS, as most knew him, recruited his brothers John and James, his father Charles and friend William Morgan to found the Pittsburgh Motor Vehicle Company on this day in 1897. The team built a second vehicle the next year, this time with four wheels. They called it the Pitssburgher. Knowing they were on to something great, the team sought a larger production facility. In 1899 the business moved from Pittsburgh to Ardmore, Pennsylvania and renamed Autocar Company. Today it exists as the oldest surviving vehicle company in the United States.

Above: 1987 Autocar No. 1. Top: 1922 Autocar truck

At their new facility they would build the first motorized truck in the United States in 1899. They followed this up with several small passenger cars. By 1907 more than 1,000 people were working at Autocar, pumping out vehicles that were changing the way Americans moved. Among the engineering firsts from the company included the first left hand drive vehicle, the first circulating oil system and the first porcelain insulated spark plug. AC Champion later bought rights to the spark plug design. While their cars were proving popular, competition was thick in the early days of automobile manufacturing. The company turned its focus to a niche market, trucks. By 1911 Autocar was manufacturing only commercial vehicles, such as large delivery vans, tankers and trucks. 

Autocar in the 1920s & beyond

Throughout the 1920s and 30s the company led in severe-duty truck production. Come WWII they would supply more than 37,000 armored vehicles and people movers to the allied efforts. Following the war, in 1953, White Motor Company acquired Autocar. It remained a part of White until Volvo acquired the company in 1981. The company changed hands again in 2001, when GVW Group LLC acquired it. Autocar is now headquartered in Indiana and continues to manufacture severe duty vehicles, including mobile cranes, concrete pumpers and refuse trucks. Autocar No. 1 currently resides at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Autocar No. 2 has found a home at The Henry Ford.

Modern Autocar refuse truck

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