In 1895, carriage maker brothers Louis and Albert Baushke, with help from an engine designer, made what is believed to be the first motorized vehicle built completely from scratch. It is on display at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, PA.
Below is the article as it appeared on The Herald-Palladium website.
Benton Harbor: The original Motor City?
Published: Sunday, March 28, 2010 1:09 PM EDT
Benton Harbor obviously didn’t become the motor capital of the world, but the car built by brothers Louis and Albert Baushke in 1895-96 was one of the first in the United States.
What is believed to be that car has been on display since 1995 at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, PA. It is considered the oldest still-running car in this country.
The Baushke brothers were successful makers of wagons, buggies and carriages, making as many as 1,300 in a year in their building on Main Street, according to a 1936 News-Palladium (the Benton Harbor predecessor of what later became The Herald-Palladium) article.
That story, with Arthur Baushke, the son of Louis, as the source, said to maintain secrecy they had the engine parts made in different local factories.
But David A. Kolzow Sr. of Mendota, IL, who restored the vehicle and gave it to the AACA Museum, credits William Worth, who later founded the short-lived Chicago Motor Vehicle Co., with designing and building the two-cylinder, 7.5 horsepower gasoline engine.
Louis made the wood parts of the car; Albert was in charge of the metalwork.
The vehicle was completed Nov. 26, 1895, as reported by The Daily Palladium.
The paper said production was planned under the name of the Benton Harbor Motor Carriage Co.
The paper’s first report of the car being driven was Jan. 31, 1896. It reported the car was driven "the other night" from the Courtright factory to the Baushke factory.
The 1936 News-Palladium article contained a colorful account of the first drive, apparently based on the memory of Arthur, who was 13 at the time. With Louis at the tiller, he set off on Main Street at 5 mph.
"By the time the panting chariot reached the corner of Main and Pipestone streets, nearly the whole town had flocked to the scene, and for the first time in their lives, the town’s policemen became traffic cops, loping along ahead of the horseless carriage, shouting warnings and forcing the crowd back from the center of the road."
Driving past amazed farmers, the engine faltered a few times, Arthur Baushke recalled for the reporter in 1936, but "Each time it stopped, it started again." It was that faltering that ultimately was the car’s downfall.
Lack of Proper Lubrication
Kolzow, in an article in the July-August 1992 issue of "Antique Automobile" magazine, wrote, "The engine itself is an amazing feat of engineering, and how and why it even runs is a miracle in itself."
The problem was the engine lacked a lubrication system.
There was a small hole through which the driver had to squirt lubricant by hand from an oil can, which couldn’t be done while the car was driven, according to Kolzow. But as the gasoline and oil were sucked into the combustion chambers, there wasn’t enough oil, so the pistons would freeze in the cylinders.
Kolzow said the car can only run a few hundred yards before it seizes.
Nevertheless, the Baushke "motocycle" was unique for several reasons.
It is considered the first motor vehicle built from scratch, rather than a converted buggy.
Also, the vehicle was more spacious. While other early autos seated one or two people, the "motocycle" had two rows of seats, big enough for five people. Power went from the engine, mounted under the seats, through a driveshaft to a differential, while most if not all other early cars used either a chain or belt drive.
Moto-mystery: Who bought the Baushke car?
The mystery is what happened to the car.
Arthur Baushke said in the 1936 article that within a few weeks after his father and uncle ran their car, "the (office) safe was piled high on top with letters from all parts of the country, and even from abroad. They were written by men who wanted to get in on the new enterprise, or were from men who had been working on automotive ideas, such as clutches, transmissions and a thousand and one gadgets."
He said the Baushkes accepted the offer of another carriage builder, Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, IN, who "bought the vehicle and all the inventions that went with it. It was the forerunner of the Haynes automobile."
George S. May, in an article about engine designer Worth in the July 1974 issue of "Adventist Heritage" magazine (Worth was a Seventh-day Adventist) wrote that Haynes acquired the car, as does the "Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942."
A Feb. 8, 1896, article in The Daily Palladium reported the Baushkes were upset at Worth for failing to build a workable engine and were trying to find another engine builder.
After the Baushkes’ automotive venture, which they financed – Worth apparently had no money of his own to invest – the Baushkes continued building wagons and buggies. Louis Baushke died in 1925 at the age of 65, outliving his brother Albert. A News-Palladium front page story about Louis’ passing mentioned their carriage and wagon business, but not their automobile.
Kolzow, who restored the vehicle, supports the Worth theory.
Kolzow wrote that after the breakup between the Baushkes and Worth, Worth left Benton Harbor "with his vehicle."
Worth moved to Chicago, where he started the Chicago Motor Vehicle Co., which operated from 1897 to 1903. He made improvements in the Baushke design, including adding brakes and a two-speed transmission, and applied for a patent.
Worth went on to start three more motor vehicle companies, the last in 1911, and all short-lived.
He apparently was a better inventor than businessman, since he held numerous automotive patents, according to Kolzow. They included ones for a steel car frame in 1900, when other car makers were still using wood; a four-wheel-drive system in 1899; and an automatic lubricator in 1901.
He died in the 1930s. His family kept the car until 1938.
Kolzow and his wife, Janet, bought the car in 1981 from its second owner. Then came five years of research and three years of labor to restore the car.
During the restoration, Kolzow said he found "Benton Harbor, Michigan" written on the wood underside of one of the seats. That, plus the fact that Worth always called the Baushke car "Old Betsy," which was the vehicle he and his wife purchased, makes him believe they owned the original car.
As for the Baushke car being sold to Elwood Haynes, "I just don’t believe that to be true," Kolzow said.
In 1989, the Kolzows displayed the car at the Coloma Glad-Peach Festival, and in 1995, gave it to the AACA Museum.
Jill Rauh, Benton Harbor reference librarian, and Christina Hirn Arseneau, Heritage Center curator, helped with research for this article.
To read this article on The Herald-Palladium website, visit http://www.heraldpalladium.com/articles/2010/03/28/local_news/1280513.txt.