1907 White Steamer
December 29, 2008 5:03 PM
The White Sewing Machine Company was founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1858. Founder Thomas H. White moved his company to Cleveland, Ohio, an early center of automobile production, in 1866. Shortly thereafter, Thomas purchased a steam-powered Locomobile, and charged his son Rollins with improving upon the vehicle’s dangerously unreliable boiler. Rollins designed an innovative water tube steam generator allowing careful regulation of superheated steam. Where the Stanley Steamer would go through a couple of gallons of water per hour heated to 400°, the White Steamer used far less water over and over, superheated to about 750°. Unlike the relatively naïve direct drive Stanley, the White had a two-speed transmission, powered by a two-cylinder compound engine.
Rollins patented his designs and tried to sell them to Locomobile, among others. With no takers, a determined Rollins convinced his father to give him a corner of the sewing machine factory to create a prototype. After procuring the help of his brothers Windsor and Walter, Rollins was able to manufacture his first 50 cars by October of 1900. With the directive to preserve the White brand at all costs, Rollins held the cars back from the market until April of the following year, in order to completely work out the kinks. As a result, the White Steamer was a near instant success, despite the fact that it cost more than a Rolls Royce! As the orders poured in, the Whites found it necessary to form the White Motor Company in 1905 to accommodate massive expansion, and before long, the White Steamer became the White House’s first official car and the Army’s standard vehicle, according to Jay.
Ironically, the American market was already committing itself to the standard of the internal combustion engine. Despite the White’s unique technology, amazing torque and whisper-quiet ride, Rollins felt its manufacture was too vulnerable in the long term. After building over 9,000 steamers, production on White steam cars stopped in 1910, even though special orders were accepted as late as 1912, while Rollins turned his attention to the design and manufacture of trucks and tractors.