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Born into slavery on a West Virginia plantation in April 1833, C.R. Patterson escaped to Ohio in 1862. Patterson obtained employment as a blacksmith for the Greenfield carriage-building business Dines and Simpson. Patterson eventually partnered with J.P. Lowe, a local carriage manufacturer who happened to be white.
When Lowe died, Patterson took over the business and renamed it the “C.R. Patterson & Sons Company.” Patterson sold 28 types of horse-drawn vehicles and employed over a dozen workers. Before his death in 1910, he experimented with the manufacture of gas-powered “horseless carriages.” The C.R. Patterson Auto Company is believed to be the first and only African American owned and founded auto company.
Patterson’s son, Frederick, transitioned the company over to auto manufacturing with the development and debut of the Patterson-Greenfield car in 1915. Selling price was $850. It featured a four-cylinder Continental engine and was comparable to the contemporary Ford Model T. Estimates of the Patterson-Greenfield car production vary. It is likely that no more than 150 vehicles were built.
Unable to compete with Ford’s manufacturing capability, C.R. Patterson & Sons began production of truck, bus and other utility vehicle bodies installed on chassis from major auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. The company’s school bus bodies became sought after as Midwestern school districts began to move from horse-drawn to internal-combustion-fired transportation by 1920. Around 1920, the company reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Company but the Great Depression resulted in the decline of the company. The company closed its doors in 1939.
While no Patterson-Greenfield automobiles are known to have survived, rare examples of C.R. Patterson & Sons carriages and buggies can still be found in museums across the Midwest.
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