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Brass Era Car


1905 Jackson Automobile Company Model C

The automotive Brass Era is the first period of automotive manufacturing, named for the prominent brass fittings used during this time for such things as lights and radiators. It extends from the first commercial automobiles marketed in the 1890s until about World War I. The term "Brass Era automobile" is a retronym for "horseless carriage," the original name for such vehicles, which is still in use today. The Brass Era closely followed the Veteran Era.


A Royal Motor Company Tourist model US Army vehicle, circa 1906. The vehicle was the conveyance of General Frederick Funston (leftmost figure in the back seat).

Within the 15 years that make up this era, the various experimental designs and alternate power systems would be marginalized. Although the modern touring car had been invented earlier, it was not until Panhard et Levassor's Système Panhard was widely licensed and adopted that recognizable and standardized automobiles were created. This system specified front-engined, rear-wheel drive internal combustion engined cars with a sliding gear transmission. Traditional coach-style vehicles were rapidly abandoned, and buckboard runabouts lost favor with the introduction of tonneaus and other less-expensive touring bodies.

Throughout this era, development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to hundreds of small manufacturers competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included the electric ignition system (by dynamotor on the Arnold in 1898, though Robert Bosch, 1903, tends to get the credit), independent suspension (actually conceived by Bollée in 1873), and four-wheel brakes (by the Arrol-Johnston Company of Scotland in 1909). Leaf springs were widely used for suspension, though many other systems were still in use, with angle steel taking over from armored wood as the frame material of choice. Transmissions and throttle controls were widely adopted, allowing a variety of cruising speeds, though vehicles generally still had discrete speed settings, rather than the infinitely variable system familiar in cars of later eras. Safety glass also made its debut, patented by John Wood in England in 1905. (It would not become standard equipment until 1926, on a Rickenbacker.)

Between 1907 and 1912 in the United States, the high-wheel motor buggy (resembling the horse buggy of before 1900) was in its heyday, with over seventy-five makers including Holsman (Chicago), IHC (Chicago), and Sears (which sold via catalog); the high-wheeler would be killed by the Model T. In 1912, Hupp (in the U.S., supplied by Hale & Irwin) and BSA (in the UK) pioneered the use of all-steel bodies, joined in 1914 by Dodge (who produced Model T bodies). While it would be another two decades before all-steel bodies would be standard, the change would mean improved supplies of superior-quality wood for furniture makers.

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