The forgotten forefather of the American automobile
Alexander Winton successfully convinced the American public that automobiles were more than a passing fad. Born in 1860 in Grangemouth, Scotland, Winton was a Scottish immigrant who came to New York at the age of 19. He worked as an engineer for several years on an ocean steamship and later moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his sister lived with her husband. He found work as a superintendent at a Cleveland iron factory, but soon began to take note of the tremendous demand for bicycles.
Realizing a business opportunity, Winton founded the Winton Bicycle Company in Cleveland in 1891 with the assistance of his brother-in-law. The business soon became successful, but Winton was growing more interested in self-propelled vehicles. He read everything he could find on the subject while perfecting his own engine designs and even built his own gasoline-powered bicycle. Winton unveiled his first “motor wagon” to the press in 1896. He incorporated the Winton Motor Carriage Company in 1897. In 1898, Winton Motor Carriage Company became arguably the first American company to sell an automobile to the general public with the introduction of the Winton Six. The Six was the most powerful and technologically advanced vehicle of its time, and was the first car to cross America coast to coast. Always the promoter, Alexander Winton entered as many races as he could, winning more often than not, and later recruited Barney Oldfield to pilot his racecars. One of Winton’s notable losses came against Henry Ford, a loss that helped Ford gain investors to establish his first car company.
Winton continued building automobiles of advanced design well into the 20th century. He introduced innovations like external and internal brakes on the same brake drum, produced the first American diesel engine in 1913, and held more than 100 patents in automobile design. Winton built automobiles until early 1924. He had also formed a subsidiary company, the Winton Gas Engine & Manufacturing Company, to build marine and diesel engines. His engine company continued to prosper until 1930, at which time it was sold to General Motors. Winton passed away two years later. While often forgotten or even unknown today, Alexander Winton was truly one of the great American automotive pioneers.