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Car of the Month - December 2005

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White Model G-A - touring body - manufactured in 1910

At the start of the 20th century there was a rapid expansion of companies producing cars in the USA. The novel automobile was welcomed with much enthusiasm after a slow start, quite in contrast to Europe where people were far less willing to let these noisy newfangled contraptions loose on public roads. The excitement and popularity that followed in the wake of the development of the horseless carriages lead many engineering firms, hardware companies and manufactures of different means of transport into trying their hand at automobile production. In those early years the dominance of the gasoline combustion engine was not yet evident; propulsion by electric motors or steam engines were considered equally efficient and perhaps even more efficient. Cars with electric motors were easier to operate and much more silent and steam engines were less complex and more durable. Especially in the US vehicles propelled by steam engines enjoyed a loyal following for decades.
The White Sewing Machine Company from Cleveland, Ohio was a well established company that followed the automobile trend. This family business started out in 1866 producing sewing machines and proliferated into other products like bicycles and roller skates. In 1899 White presented its first steam car, based upon a semi-flash boiler invented by Rollin White, son of the founder of the company. It was a relatively simple 2-seater and worked well. In 1900 it was taken into production as the model A and sales took off. The White was a quality car which was underlined by good performances in endurance runs and alike; early White steamers have been known to remain in regular use for over 30 years. White cars grew bigger with each model year and sales prospered. The first car to be driven by an American president was a White; this occurred in 1906 with Theodore Roosevelt at the wheel. A White car was also part of the first official White House automobile fleet, which seems very apt considering the name. The peak year for the White steamer was 1906 when 1534 cars were produced; no other steam car has been produced in this quantity within in a single year. This milestone set White apart from the myriad of other car manufacturers but it also proved to be the turning point since steamers lost ground to the more practical petrol engined cars rapidly.
In 1910 White decided to offer gasoline cars next to their famous steamers; these models were named G-A (shown here) and G-B. The gasoline cars had 4-cylinder monobloc sidevalve engines based on a French Delahaye design and produced 30 hp, while the most powerful White steamer that year offered 40 hp, but this model was also considerably more expensive. At first sales of the White steam and gasoline cars were about equal, but this soon changed and already in 1912 White offered only gasoline engined cars. A great steam tradition had come to an end.
Next to automobile production White had always offered commercial vehicles and this market became increasingly important for White. Production of luxury cars gradually declined as the models became more luxurious and expensive and was ultimately ended in 1918, the last models having unusual 16-valve 4-cylinder engines and costing about ten times as much as the Ford Model T from the same period, which also offered a 4-cylinder engine (however smaller and far less refined). In total 9122 steam cars and 8927 gasoline cars had been built by White. White continued to make commercial vehicles and was a very successful truck manufacturer until 1981, when the company was taken over by Volvo from Sweden.

A great piece of American automotive history, this first gasoline engined White model with the distinctive curved hood and radiator. Surprising to find this veteran car in such an immaculate condition here in Holland.

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© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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