Thursday 24th November 1921
Gottfried Schlöemer (79), mechanic and inventor, who lived on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US, died. His principal claim to fame rests on the “motor wagon” that he built there in 1889, which some have hailed as the first workable gasoline-engine automobile ever built in the United States, four years ahead of Charles and Frank Duryea, who are most often identified with this achievement. At the time of his death certain local reports even claimed him as the designer and maker of the first gasoline-powered automobile in the world, although that honor is usually given to the German Karl Benz in 1885.
In 1880 he conceived the idea of a “motor wagon” (a.k.a. “gas buggy”, “auto wagon”) with an attached gasoline engine to make it self-propelling. He was in the cooperage business at the Toepfer blacksmith shop on National Avenue in Milwaukee at that time. Schloemer had a single-cylinder motor made according to his design by the Sintz Gas Engine Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sintz made the engines used later by Charles Brady King and others for their first automobile. The Sintz engine that was specifically designed and ordered by Schloemer was 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches. It was installed in the “motor wagon” that was made in 1889 by Schloemer. He first drove the motorized wagon on the streets of Milwaukee in 1890. Schloemer believed in the commercial value of the idea of his “motor wagon” and went about marketing his car. He went about getting capitalists to invest in his invention in later part of the 1880s without much luck. Finally he obtained two wealthy Milwaukee men to invest in his self-propelled “motor wagon” in 1889. They set plans by 1892 to manufacture the car in a large quantities, however the national financial panic of 1893 put a halt on their plans and the investors backed out.
Schloemer had to improvise on his “motor wagon” for an igniting system to fire the fuel, since at that time there was no such thing as a spark plug. He used a home-made make-and-break sparking mechanism consisting of two points of steel striking together causing a “spark” to ignite the gasoline fumes in the cylinder. In 1892 he designed and patented a carburetor, which was known as the Gottfried Schloemer carburetor and used kerosene lamp wicks in the center of it to get the gasoline from the gas tank into the cylinder of the motor to be ignited. In a later testimony he states that when he drove his “motor wagon” down the streets of downtown Milwaukee for the first time he remembers he went down West Water Street and stopped at Spiegel’s Drug Store to purchase some items. When he came out of the store there was a large crowd around the automobile and found it necessary to ask a policeman to clear a passageway for him to leave. Once he started the motor, the very loud noise scared the people that gathered and they immediately scattered.
Schloemer’s first version of a horseless carriage was a “rocking seat automobile” where a person bounced up and down on the seat to cause a mechanical rocking operation that drove a crank that drove the rear wheels. This operated the “automobile” for only a block and a half before it failed. From there he added his specially designed Sintz motor in 1889 and in 1890 was driving the self-propelled automobile on the streets of Milwaukee. Schloemer drove his car in a floral parade in 1895, the first automobile ever to do this. He was the only automobile in the parade. He also led the first automobile parade that was ever held on the streets of Milwaukee. There were seven automobiles in the car parade
There is a debate even to this day as to who should get the credit for making the first practical workable gasoline-powered automobile. Karl Benz is a claimant to the world’s first self-propelled velocipede with a three-wheeled motorwagon in Germany in 1885. Some that take the claim of making the first gas-fueled car in America are Henry Nadig and Charles H. Black. Popular credit usually goes to the Duryea Brothers for the first commercially manufactured gasoline-powered “horseless carriage” in the U.S. with the introduction of the “Ladies Phaeton” motor wagon model in 1893. Henry Ford is credited with the idea of the modern-day assembly line production of cars.