The Latest Craze: The Locomobile is here!

May 2, 1900 found many citizens of Davenport waiting with great anticipation. Would it happen? Could it happen? All eyes were fixed on Mason’s Carriage Works at 122-124 East 4th Street. Their patience was soon rewarded.

The day before, the crates had arrived. Inside were parts to a Stanhope Locomobile made by the Locomobile Company of America in Watertown, Massachusetts.

The first automobile in the Tri-Cities had arrived.

One of two Stanhope models available in 1900. The Hartford Courant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7

The proud owner of the Stanhope was Baron Otto Von Schaezler of Davenport. An actual member of the German nobility, Baron Schaezler had immigrated to the United States in 1882. By 1900, he was an independently wealthy (from his family fortune) man living in Davenport with his wife Mabel. Schaezler worked as a bookkeeper and had several side businesses as well.

The Stanhope was a two-seater with a boiler and engine behind the seats. The gasoline tank was fitted underneath the passengers’ feet. The less expensive models came without the carriage canopy that could be folded up or down depending on the weather. The vehicle was also fitted with 28-inch wheels with pneumatic tires. The locomobile could move forward, but it could not be put in reverse! It did have the ability to go uphill, which must have been a plus considering the landscape in and around Davenport.

At that time, an automobile would be shipped in pieces and the local carriage works would assemble it. The employees at Mason’s were able to put the locomobile together quickly enough that a test drive took place that very evening.

The Baron started the vehicle, waited for the water to start steaming, and then set off. Sadly, the first drive ended quickly because not enough steam could be generated; the Baron and his assistant were forced to push the Stanhope back to Mason’s.

The next day, a boiler repair expert was brought in to work on the vehicle. After a few more failed drives, the automobile was finally off and running, or at least limping, along.

One of two Stanhope models available in 1900. The Hartford Courant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7

Three days later, the pieces of Mr. Claus Bischoff’s automobile arrived in town and the Tri-City Carriage Works put it together. It seems a new craze was taking hold in Davenport.

The first automobile race in the city took place that summer. The Baron and Mr. J. B. Richardson were set to compete at the Mile Track, where horses usually raced, on July 19th. Expectations were high, and the excitement mounted as Richardson’s vehicle failed to appear until two days before the race!

Alas, Richardson’s auto stopped working the night before the race; it could not be repaired. But all was not lost! Mr. Charles Moore stepped up and challenged Baron Von Schaezler’s locomobile to a race against his super-fast…bicycle.

So that’s how it happened: the first automobile race in Davenport was actually between a steam-propelled “horseless carriage” and a bicycle. The crowd was surprised and delighted when the Stanhope, driven by the Baron’s brother-in-law Will H. Canniff (with the Baroness Mabel Von Schaezler by his side), rolled up to the starting line next to Moore and his bicycle.

The 2-minute-3-second-long mile race was considered a dead heat, but there were those convinced that Moore would have won if he could have maneuvered his bicycle around the locomobile.

After the race, Baron Von Schaezler was approached by wealthy coal businessman W. J. Haskell of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Haskell wanted to purchase the Stanhope from the Baron on the spot, and he did, for $1,000. He then started for home with Canniff beside him in the passenger seat so he might have help learning how to drive the locomobile. It took them 6 1/2 hours to cover 75 miles of county roads from Davenport to Cedar Rapids.

Haskell owned the locomobile for several years before donating it to the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1927 (Accession #1559 B). Judging by the pictures in the museum’s catalogue, we guess it was either a Stanhope Model #3 (with canopy, $900) or #2 (without canopy, $750).

There is no record of Baron Von Schaezler’s next automobile purchase — perhaps he preferred the more reliable horse and carriage in the end. But the automobile craze had taken over nonetheless. Business at Mason’s Carriage Works and similar establishments turned brisk as owners of both traditional and newfangled conveyances required service.

The Davenport Democrat, August 27, 1900. Pg. 4

If only we knew what became of Moore’s bicycle!

(posted by Amy D.)

Resources

  • The Davenport Democrat, May 1, 1900. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat, May 3, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, May 5, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, May 18, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Daily Times, July 14, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Morning Star, July 18, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Morning Star, July 20, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, July 20, 1900. Pg. 6
  • The Davenport Democrat, July 20, 1900. Pg. 4
  • The Davenport Democrat, July 23, 1900. Pg. 5
  • The Daily Times, July 25, 1900. Pg. 6
  • Davenport Weekly Republican, July 25, 1900. Pg. 3
  • The Hartford Currant, September 17, 1900. Pg. 7
  • The Daily Times, July 21, 1930. Pg. 3
  • The Daily Times, July 11, 1936. Pg. 78
  • The State Museum of Iowa. www.iowaculture.gov/history

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