Historic Structures

The Winton Motor Car Company, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: November 2, 2015 Categories: Ohio Auto Companies Industrial

Cleveland's automobile industry began at a commercial level with Alexander Winton's sale of a one-cylinder motor vehicle to Robert Allison on March 24, 1898. That year, The Winton Motor Carriage Company completed twenty-two passenger vehicles and eight trucks. By 1899, the Winton company had become the nation's largest automobile manufacturer. "Seventy-five percent of the reasons for Winton's success," said one writer in 1904, " can be summed up in one word - system." The driving force behind that system was the company founder and president, Alexander Winton.

Winton was born and raised in Scotland, receiving training as a marine engineer in Clyde. In 1885, at the age of 25, Winton came to Cleveland to work as the superintendent of the Phoenix Iron Works. In 1890, Winton founded the company of Henderson and Winton. With his brother-in-law Thomas Henderson as its vice-president, Winton's company made parts for Cleveland's bicycle manufacturers. By 1891, the company was producing its own bicycles. That led to the organization of the Winton Bicycle Company in 1892, with F. L. Alcott, president; Z. W. Davis, vice-president; George H. Brown, secretary; and W. H. Boardman, treasurer. The company's factory stood on Perkins Avenue next to the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad tracks. It produced 25 bicycles per week for a total of 6000 in 1892.

The financial panic and resulting recession of 1893 cooled the national bicycling fad, leaving The Winton Bicycle Company with growing debts and a shrinking market. Although the company continued to produce bicycles, its engineer, Alexander Winton, began experimenting with internal combustion engines in 1893, eventually taking out over 100 patents on its design.

In 1895, Winton made a working motorcycle, mounting his gasoline engine to a bicycle frame. In the early part of 1897, he had developed a working motor carriage, becoming the sixth American to do so. By 1897, Winton also had become president of The Winton Bicycle Company, with George H. Brown as his manager. Those two men, in conjunction with Thomas Henderson, organized The Winton Motor Carriage Company on March 1, 1897, with an authorized capitalization of $200,000. They located their first factory in the former Brush Electric Company plant at the northwest corner of Belden Street (East 45th Street) and Mason Avenue (Hough Avenue) directly behind their bicycle plant. The company produced its first commercial motor carriage in June 1897. Its first order came that year from the City of Cleveland which wanted six passenger buses to complement its existing trolley system. The city later cancelled the order when a trial run between the Winton plant and downtown Cleveland drew protests from irate citizens with frightened horses.

In the winter of 1897 and the spring of 1898, The Winton Motor Carriage Company produced four vehicles for sale. They each held two passengers, went ten miles per hour, and contained a chain drive, a friction clutch, and a vertical engine cooled by ice. The company then placed advertisements in various national newspapers and magazines, guaranteeing refunds if the vehicles did not function properly. Alexander Winton had a talent for promotions- Beginning in 1897, he set a series of records which brought himself and his company international fame. He set the dirt track record for automobiles with a 1 mile, 48 second mile. His racing car, the Bullet, became the first American automobile entered in a foreign race. Winton made the first reliability run in automobile history, traveling between Cleveland and New York in 47 1/2 hours. He also attempted the first cross-country automobile run, delivered the first mail by car, and produced the first commercial vehicle for sale.

The most important first came with Winton's use of an efficient stationary assembly process. Although the stationary assembly of automobiles had been used by other auto manufacturers, Winton succeeded in systematizing the process. He divided the sub-assembly process into separate departments and coordinated the operations within each, timing and adjusting the movements of each team of workers in order to eliminate any unnecessary effort.

The benefits of this systematizing quickly became apparent. The Winton Motor Carriage Company, which built only 30 vehicles in 1898, built between 18 and 25 vehicles per week in 1899. Although some of that increase stemmed from the expansion of the factory and staff, much of it resulted from the increased efficiency of the manufacturing methods.

The first Winton Motor Carriage factory contained a central three-story space with a wood-truss roof, monitor skylights, and a one-ton electric traveling crane at the second floor level. The floor, of diagonal wood boards, contained imbedded rails for moving carts. To one side of these rails stood the final assembly area, with its rows of vehicles elevated on saw horses. The sub-assembly departments occupied the two floors to either side of the central craneway. The machine shop filled one side of the first floor. The inspection and repair departments apparently occupied part of the other side. The body, tire, trim, and paint shops occupied the second floor aisles.

The two story wings had large timber trusses supporting shed roofs. Bearing walls, with double-hung windows and brick piers, formed the outside walls. Heavy timber posts, with bolster blocks, supported the solid wooden floors as well as the central gable truss over the clerestory. Various wood members attached to this post-and-beam structure supported machinery shafting and chain hoists.

Although this first factory accommodated Winton1 s manufacturing methods well enough, the structured urban site did not allow much room for expansion. In 1902, The Winton Motor Carriage Company bought an eleven acre site for a new factory at the far western edge of Cleveland. The site stood at the corner of Berea Road and Madison Avenue, with a 1/4 mile siding along the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad tracks. Winton hired the young Cleveland architect, Edward Anson Richardson to design its new plant. Previously with his father's firm, Richardson formed a one year partnership with Lewis W. Thomas to design the Winton factory.

The new plant retained the slow-burning mill construction of Winton's first plant, with its brick bearing walls, timber structural members, and solid wood flooring. The new plant also featured 9 over 9 double-hung windows with flat-arch brick lintels, engaged brick piers and painted company advertisements on the exterior, gabled Howe roof trusses over the central two-story clerestory spaces, and Warren trusses over the adjacent side aisles. The difference between the two plants was in their layout. Rather than stacking the various sub-assembly areas on two floors, Richardson and Thomas placed each department in its own single-story building. The size, location, and function of each building within the plant was recorded in a 1904 booklet written by George S. Davis entitled "Making Winton Motor Carriages."