How C.R. Patterson and Sons Helped Shape American Automotive History

The powerful story of the country's first Black-owned auto maker

C.R. Patterson auto
One of the earliest automotive pioneers.
Historical Society of Greenfield, Ohio

Situated between Columbus and Cincinnati, the village of Greenfield, Ohio is an unlikely place to contain a piece of American automotive history. But contain it it does; Greenfield is where the pioneering automaker C. R. Patterson and Sons was established. A new article at Autoblog tells the story of the company’s founding, and it’s a narrative that links up with a host of other strands of American history.

Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery in 1831. After escaping the South, he settled in Ohio and co-founded a business making carriages. He eventually bought out his partner’s share of the business, launching C.R. Patterson and Sons in 1893. According to the Smithsonian’s article on the company’s history, Patterson ran a thriving business, employing between 35 and 50 employees.

Autoblog’s article provides more information on how Charles’s son Frederick transformed the business:

In 1910, Charles Richard Patterson died and left the business to Frederick, who quickly began converting the company into an automobile manufacturer. The hard work of shifting the scope of the business culminated in the introduction of the Patterson-Greenfield automobile in 1915. It was sold for $685 and featured a four-cylinder Continental engine that competed with Ford’s Model T.

The resulting change in business made C. R. Patterson and Sons the first Black-owned auto manufacturer in the country. It’s something that’s given them a place in both local and national history — and acts as a touchstone for the automotive history of the United States and the world.

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