Twin brothers Francis Edgar Stanley (1849 - 1917) and Freelan Oscar Stanley (1849 - 1940) were pioneers of the dry photographic plate. In 1897 , after witnessing a french steam car in an expo, they got interested and started developing an automobile with a steam engine. In 1898 , they made their first steam car and drove up a steep hill in 2 hours which otherwise would have taken 6 hours in a horse carriage.
A 1898 steam car with Freelan Stanley and his wife -
They produced about 200 of these cars and later sold the rights of the steam car to Locomobile company and returned back to their photography business.
In 1902, they sold the photography business to George Eastman and returned back to Automobile business. They founded Stanley Motor Carriage Company to manufacture and sell steam powered cars. Stanley steam cars were known for their quality, reliability and boasts of one of the safest boiler designs with no recorded accident of boiler explosions. The boilers and burners were placed below the rear seat and directly coupled to the rear axle. As the torque produced is high, steam cars do not require clutch and transmissions.
A 1903 Stanley steam car -
Around 1905, steam car designs evolved and housed the boiler and burners in front leading to be known as "Coffin-nosed" cars. In 1906 , a Stanley steam car set the world speed record of 127 mph (201 km/h) and the record stood for 103 years , broken by another modern steam car in 2009. Stanley steamers came to be known as "flying teapots" in view of their exploits in the racing arena.
A 1908 and an 1912 Stanley steam car - Note the shape of the front - coffin-like
The driver controls were also complex and requires an engineer to start and drive a steam car. It has many pressure gauges (water, steam , main fuel, pilot fuel) , oil winker, throttle below steering wheel, air pressure tanks, steam control etc. Below is an example of a Stanley steamer dashboard.
The mechanical layout of a steam car is also completely different as well as complex, requiring multiple plumbing to handle oil, fuel, water, steam , heat etc. Below is a layout of a Stanley steamer -
The starting procedure is elaborate and requires a minimum of 20 min to start and drive away a steam car. Watch Jay Leno start and drive a 1906 Stanley steamer here.
The Stanley Motor Carriage logo -
In the early 1900 , steam cars were one of the highest selling automobiles, next to electric cars. However, with the invention of starter motor by Cadillac and mass production of Ford Model T cars, steam cars lost steam and were on the decline. Stanley steam cars tried to counter this by an advertisement campaign , which reads -
Correctly applied to rear axle
This campaign was put forth to counter the rise of "internal explosion Engine" which was gaining popularity at that time. As we know the "internal explosion engine" won the race.
Stanley Motor carriage company changed hand in 1917 and was finally closed down in 1924.