The C. R. Patterson and Sons Company conducted business in Greenfield, Ohio, from 1865-1939. Founded by Charles Richard (C.R.) Patterson, a free person of color born in the 1830s South and relocating to the North in the 1840s, this company passed through three generations of the Patterson family. Throughout its history the company transitioned from building carriages, automobiles, trucks, and then buses, all in order to keep up with the rapidly changing demands and technology of the transportation industry during that period. When C. R.'s son, Frederick, began producing automobiles in 1915, he became the first and only Black manufacturer known to have built an automobile. This company led many pioneering efforts in providing proper vehicles for both horse-drawn and motorized school transportation and was also an industry leader in winter buggy design. The company nearly saturated the markets of Ohio and surrounding states with their school buses during the 1920s. The Pattersons always tried to find their niche within the transportation industry where they could remain competitive and achieve continued success. The family was also involved in other areas as well, including Freemasonry, politics, and aiding Booker T. Washington in the founding of the National Negro Business League and serving in high positions within that organization for the first decade of the league's existence. They broke color barriers in education, sports, politics, and experienced a slew of other successes at the local, regional, and even national levels. This is a story of a family and company overcoming obstacles that stood in the way and making the most of every opportunity that was earned -- never given.
This company and family have a unique history, and this book documents their story of overcoming adversity and surviving for 74 years in the White dominated business world. This book provides as many details as possible about the Patterson family from their arrival in Greenfield during the early 1840s until 1939 when a series of multiple factors, including the Great Depression, caused the family to finally lock the factory doors and close their unique chapter in history.
This book contains multiple never-before-seen photographs and other illustrations of the Patterson family, factory, and their products. it also provides a glimpse into the lives of the Pattersons through exhaustive research to discover those obscure gems of information that have remained hidden until now yet adds so much to the overall story of this family and company.
This new edition contains 160 additional pages of details not discussed in the 2010 edition of the book and includes nearly 50 new photographs and other illustrations.
Discovery of the True Patterson Story -- How the Story Developed
Living in Clinton County most of my life, which neighbors the Highland County setting of this history, I occasionally heard mentions of the story of the Patterson family. For a few years during the early parts of this century, I lived in Greenfield, Ohio where this family’s story took place. The story became a popular topic of discussion once again in the community in 2003 while the old Patterson factory was removed to make way for a modern structure. It was during this time that I became much more familiar with the story of the family and company and found it quite intriguing.
As I continued my education and was in the process of acquiring a Master of Science degree in the Industrial Archaeology program at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, I began to look at the Patterson story once again. As I began to research the topic, I found that the Patterson story dropped from the public eye for around 40 years from the time they closed the factory in 1939. Except for a brief 1965 article and another in 1976, the story began circulating once again more widely with a series of brief articles during the early 1980s. These articles became the basis for the Patterson story that has been told for the last few decades in articles and one small book written in 2006 all telling this now generally accepted story about the Patterson family.
Being an Industrial Archaeologist and Historian, I decided to build upon the traditional story and include as many details as possible about the technical specifications of the Patterson carriages, automobiles, buses, and trucks as well as the factory and its setup. As I delved into the research looking for any new details on these topics that had not already been told in the previous works, I began to discover an entirely different story than the traditional version that has circulated the last few decades. Although many portions of the traditional story and the current work mirror each other, there are many details that have been missed or were erroneous in previous versions. Although some of the incorrect details are minor, enough of them together made several significant changes to the story. These versions of the story have also been spread widely across social media platforms in recent years. As some say, “the devil is in the details.” This prompted a change in my research as I then not only focused on the technical details, but I attempted to collect enough information to tell the most accurate history of this family and company as possible.
My research strategy focused on gathering as many Patterson specific sources from 1939 or before as possible. This method allowed me to utilize sources from the time period when the Patterson family and company were actively in business and aided in providing information that was quite different than that provided in articles from later dates. Some of these changes in the story have been pointed out in the notes for each chapter at the end of each chapter and the reader is encouraged to browse the notes occasionally for additional information that was removed from the main text. The Pattersons received good coverage in the local newspapers and occasionally some widespread publications. This helped to piece together a better idea of what was happening with the family and business during this time. The Patterson Company frequently used advertising for their products. Over 1,200 advertisements from the company were collected during this research and are now housed at the Greenfield Historical Society in Greenfield, Ohio. Much information was gleaned from these advertisements and the many early newspaper and journal articles about the company. Other information came from Records of the National Negro Business League where correspondence was located between Frederick and NBL officials as well as transcripts of several speeches that Frederick made at the annual meetings. In these speeches, Frederick discussed financial details and processes used at the factory. Several sources such as these were located, sometimes in obscure places that most would not think to look, such as medical journals and farm magazines.
This research took me to several archives, libraries, and associations across several states. Endless hours of scrolling through microfilm reels of newspapers and other records led to the story that is presented here. Although it is recognized that there may be some occasional holes in the story, this has occurred due to a lack of sources on those details and the intentional refraining from presenting speculation as fact in this history. The attempt has been made to provide the most accurate history possible about this family who managed to survive for 74 years through making transitions to the current industry trends and their willingness to adapt and try to seek their own niche within the business world.
In 2021, resulting from relationships developed as part of the induction of two members of the Patterson family into the Automotive Hall of Fame, the idea of a possible documentary and feature film was presented to me. A screenwriter asked me about characteristics and personality traits of the people involved in the Patterson story. I really had to think about it and realized that I didn’t know as much about those aspects of the people involved in the story as previously thought. The original research for this story was for a master’s thesis in Industrial Archaeology and the focus of the research was more on technical details of the factory and the different types of vehicles that the Patterson Company built. Some personal details of the people were thrown in as they were discovered, but there was not enough for having a full understanding of the family personalities and involvement outside of the company.
This led to a deep dive into additional research over the past year, which uncovered many new details. I must admit that it was a lot of fun to go back through the original research while looking at it with a new focus. Many details were missed during the original research because they weren’t part of the focus at that time. Additionally, many new sources were discovered during the current research as the internet has increased the amount of readily available materials over the past 13-14 years since the original research was conducted. Additionally, members of the Patterson family were able to provide several details and documents that helped to piece more of the story together. The new details discovered during the current research, as well as those provided by Patterson descendants, were numerous. The collection of this much additional information resulted in the revision and addition of many of these details into this second edition of the original book from 2010.