By Nicholas S. Barnes,
Frederick Douglas Patterson was the first African-American man to build a motorized car. Frederick was born in Greenfield, Ohio in 1871 and lived for 61 years. He was the son of Charles Richard Patterson and Josephine Utz. His father, C.R. Patterson had escaped slavery in Virginia and became an inventor and business owner. Frederick was named after the abolitionist Frederick Douglas.
Frederick Douglas Patterson was the second oldest child of 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys). In 1888, he graduated from Greenfield High School. After graduation, Frederick went to The Ohio State University and became the first African American to make the football team. Then in his senior year he left college to teach high school in Louisville, Kentucky. I think he must have been very smart. Meanwhile, his younger brother Samuel stayed in Ohio to work with their father in the family’s carriage business.
Frederick Joins the Carriage Business
Frederick’s father, Charles Richard Patterson became a Blacksmith at a carriage company after escaping slavery and settling in Ohio. It is believed that he eventually became a partner in this company and many began to refer to the company as Lowe and Patterson although the legal name did not change. In 1893, Frederick’s father, Charles Richard Patterson bought the company. Most people believe he was the first African American person to own a carriage company. He then changed the name of the company to C.R.
Patterson, Son & Co., because his son Samuel was working with him. In 1897, Frederick’s brother, Samuel got sick and Frederick had to help his dad with the carriage company. He left his teaching job and returned to Ohio. In 1899, Samuel died, and Frederick took his brother’s place working with their father. In 1901, Frederick married Betty Estelline Postell and they had two sons.
Changes in Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Manufacturing
In 1910, Frederick’s dad dies, and Frederick took over the company and began early fixing automobiles for the community.
In the 1800’s America and Europe were having an automobile revolution and because the automobile was so popular Frederick became interested in making his own automobile.
According to some reports Patterson said, “In 1902, there was one car to 65,000 people and by 1939 there was one car for every 800 people and with those kinds of figures I believe it’s time for us to build a Patterson horseless carriage”
He started to develop his own automobile in 1914 during that time Frederick started making early prototypes of early automobiles, the four-door roadsters and the two-door touring car. The first actual car was made 1915 and it was built in their Washington Street facility and at that time the company name had changed to Patterson-Greenfield. The car cost $850.00
His company became the first African American automaker. Frederick made between 30 and 150 cars from 1915 to 1918 and had competition from The Ford Motor Company and their very large assembly lines. He could not keep up with the mass production of The Ford Motor Company. In 1921, he decided to reorganize again and named the new company Greenfield Bus Body Company, by this time he was making school buses for local school districts. Then the stock market crashed in 1929 and the company was struggling to survive. Frederick’s son Postell, tried to keep the company going after Frederick sadly died in January 1932, but he was unable to raise enough money to keep it open. In 1939 the company closed its doors for good.
How did He become an Innovator and Impact our Lives?
Frederick Douglas Patterson was the first African American Auto manufacturer. He was a smart man who was most likely influenced by his father and the needs of his time. He helped people because he came up with new ideas for different types of cars and his cars were said to be a higher quality then others being built at the time. Frederick was a man of many accomplishments. He helped us because he was a leader, he was the first African American man to make an automobile, and he was the first African American man to make The Ohio State University Football team. He not only was smart, and creative, he was athletic. Frederick helped me learn that anyone can do anything. Frederick Douglas Patterson’s story is definitely an unheard perspective.