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Great Smith Automobile

a very reliable, but expensive, car

In August 1900, Terry Stafford created an automobile which was little more than a buggy driven by a seven-horsepower gasoline engine. Stafford, a bicycle shop owner by trade, had neither the capital nor the experience to mass-produce his automobile, however, so he turned to Anton and Clement Smith -- two brothers active in producing trusses, artificial limbs, bows and arrows, and concert "grand harps" -- for help. The Great Smith Automobile Company was formed in 1902, with Stafford as chief engineer and the Smith brothers as financial backers.

The Smiths built a state-of-the-art production facility in Topeka, Kansas, where their other businesses were also located. The company's motto was to "Build an automobile at the lowest price at which it can be done well, make it light and strong, and put out no inferior grade." The first cars rolled off the line in 1907, and the company soon became known for producing well-built, dependable cars.

Great Smith Automobile

Great Smith automobiles were entered in several races, nearly always performing well and often winning. As a publicity stunt, in 1908 a Great Smith became the first car to climb Pike's Peak, doing so under wintry conditions and using a long-abandoned stagecoach road. By 1910, 150 workers were on the company's payroll.

What the Great Smith lacked, however, was economy. Other, better funded, automakers could produce a dependable car with no frills for up to one-third the cost of a Great Smith. A Great Smith Touring Car similar to the one shown above cost $2,650. Adding frills such as a top, dust cover, side curtains, and a windshield could take the total price up to $2,787. (The one shown also has a box on the left running board that contains a spare battery, and another box on the right running board that holds a refrigerator.) By comparison, a Ford could be bought for $800. As a result, the Great Smith never achieved popularity among the general public. The last car rolled off the line in 1911, and the company declared bankruptcy in 1912. (Stafford had left the company in 1907 and moved to Kansas City, where he established a factory to produce his own Stafford Automobile.)

The total number of vehicles produced by the Great Smith Automobile Company is unknown, but it is safe to assume it was no more than 1,200. It is also unknown exactly how many Great Smith Automobiles still exist. The example shown above is on display in the Kansas Museum of History, in Topeka, Kansas.

Kansas State Historical Society

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The Robinson Library >> Technology >> Motor Vehicles

This page was last updated on September 22, 2017.