Frederick Patterson, the son of carriage maker Charles Richard (C.R.) Patterson, took over C.R. Patterson & Sons in 1910 after the passing of his father and brought the company’s first automobile to market in 1915. C.R. Patterson & Sons is the first and only black-owned and operated automobile company on the continent.
Frederick Patterson was born in Greenfield, Ohio in 1871. His father, C.R., was a big proponent of education and Patterson was encouraged to attend the local high school, even though he already had a job at his father’s company. At first, the school denied admission because he was black, but his father sued and won.Patterson was an outstanding football player and upon graduation from high school, he was recruited to play for The Ohio State University. He was the first black football player in the University’s history.
After leaving college, Patterson married, and after the death of his brother Samuel, left his teaching positon in Louisville, KY to join his father’s business. He quickly convinced his father that automobiles were the future. Their next step was to add automotive repair and service to their carriage-building business.
Frederick placed his first ad for auto repair services in the local paper in 1913. As the company built their repair and restoration customer base for the newly-invented “horseless carriages,” his workers gained valuable hands-on experience with the new technology. The company moved on to service engines, drivetrains, electrical and mechanical systems as well.
Greenfield, Ohio, was a well-known stop on the Underground Railroad. Rev. Samuel Crothers and other prominent local Presbyterian ministers were established abolitionists and preached that one should judge a man by the measure of his skills. Likely influenced by these men, Patterson employed mostly white men to work in his factory, a unique concept for a black-owned business in the early 1900s. Patterson was one of the wealthiest men in Greenfield, Ohio, white or black.
Their first automobile, the Patterson-Greenfield, rolled out in 1915 and sold for $850. It was advertised to be of higher quality than the Model T. The vehicles had a forty horsepower Continental four-cylinder engine and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.
Patterson struggled to break into the sector, which was monopolized by Henry Ford’s mass produced, less-expensive options. Patterson kept at it and designed and deployed his own assembly line technique to increase output. Unable to compete with Ford’s hold on recreational cars, Patterson moved into commercial vehicles, producing buses and transport trucks. He never revealed his face to his customers, often sending a white proxy in his place to avoid customers’ prejudice.
C.R. Patterson & Sons was forced to close its doors in 1939 at the fault of the Great Depression.