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    Patterson-Greenfield in early car history book

    When I first saw the bright yellow book with the red band and white lettering, I knew I had to check. Its title shouted out its contents loud and clear, so I was wondering if it told the whole story:

    “Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925,” the title read. I instantly picked up the book and looked in the index for the name Patterson-Greenfield. That was a car whose name I had come across more than a year ago at a preview for the sale of African American manuscripts. Patterson-Greenfield cars had been produced by an African American company at the turn of the 20th century. When I came across that bit of history, it was exhilarating.

    The cover of the book on early American cars that listed the Patterson-Greenfield.

    Last year, an auction house was selling a circa 1916-1920s poster of an ad for the car that C.R. Patterson’s company had made. Patterson had escaped from slavery in West Virginia, settled in Greenfield, OH, and worked for a carriage company in the 1800s. He eventually bought out another carriage company and started producing his own vehicles. He made 28 types; his buggies were the most popular, especially in the South.

    By the early 20th century, his son Frederick was running the business and decided to try automobiles. The company produced a touring car or roadster, and is said to have made 30 to 150 cars. It closed in the 1930s.

    Finding Patterson then was like finding a piece of lost history. As I stood there searching for him in this book of early automobiles, I wondered if author Floyd Clymer had also overlooked him. So I turned to the index, but it had no listing for him, only the name Paterson with one “t.”

    The Patterson-Greenfield car featured in a poster circa 1916-1920.

    Clymer was a writer and publisher of books on cars, motorcycles and racing. According to one article, he was very prolific at producing cheap books by the hundreds. He apparently was just as prolific in his life, with another article describing him as a racer; motorcycle dealer, distributor and manufacturer; magazine publisher, and racing promoter.

    An ad for one of his motorcycle books mentioned that he had written and/or published more than 400 books on automotive topics.

    I started flipping through the pages of Clymer’s book to see if the name Patterson, his car or his company were mentioned. The book contained black and white photos of old automobiles, some car ads and lots of historical text. I found nothing, though, about the Patterson-Greenfield.

    I checked the date of publication. I knew that early books left out a lot of black history. The publication date was 1950, so it was entirely possible that the Patterson-Greenfield car was intentionally left out, the writer did a poor job of researching history or it was an oversight. Ignoring the achievements of the country’s black population was rather routine.

    The Patterson-Greenfield listed among other early automobiles in the book.

    Undeterred, I kept looking. One page stated that 2,200 makes of cars were once produced in this country, many of which did not last very long. This publication was the most complete list of those cars, the book noted, adding that research was still going on.

    I searched the list and there it was: Patterson-Greenfield, in between the Pathfinder and Pawtucker Steamer. Charles Richard Patterson had stepped his toe into history, but his story still had not been told.

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