top of page

Fly away, Stanley. Be free!

As we talk about flying cars and ones with their own intelligence, there is a certain romance in reminiscing about one particularly iconic design - The Stanley Steamers.

After watching a few old ghost shows, I came across a museum in a town called Watertown dedicated to Stanley. In much the same way as ghosts with unfinished business, the car stood there, narrating its story. As it were, I obliged.

1897, the Stanley brothers made their first car after selling their photograph dry plate business, which later became Kodak. Steam was the familiar fuel, whereas gasoline was the alternative fuel when they built the cars that bore their names. Stanley Motor Carriage Company was founded three years after Locomobile purchased the design in 1899.

They sold 200 cars in the next two years. In fact, it was a powerful car, as Stanley himself proved by climbing 12.2 km on the steep Washington Mount Road - a first for any car. Except for Lizzie's husband and the founder of Radiator Springs in Cars, these cars feature elevated seats over a chassis that covers a steam boiler with such sartorial sophistication. Further, the pretentiousness of the cars was reflected in their cost as well. Almost $49,000 currently would have bought a 1924 Stanley model 740D sedan.

Toward the end of the 1910s, motors used an electric starter instead of crank starters, which were notorious for causing serious injuries to its operators, which led to the improvement in fuel efficiency and power delivery of internal combustion engines.

Stanley attempted to protect its position by running a series of ads trying to recover the car-buying public from the "internal explosion engine," but none of them were successful. Their advertising slogan was, "Power – Correctly Generated, Correctly Controlled, Correctly Applied to the Rear Axle." By showing the dangers of internal combustion automobiles, these advertisements were the first examples of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt advertising strategy.

As a result of marketing like that, the smaller scale of merchandising, the need for higher speeds and faster starting with advancements in internal combustion technology as well as prices only a baron could afford, the Stanley company fell behind. The company was unable to keep up with new technology. They sold their interest in the company to Prescott Warren in 1917. According to production specifications, no vehicles with a power output over 20 horsepower (15 kW) were manufactured after 1918. The factory closed permanently in 1924.

While the company employed some pretty questionable tactics to survive, it was able to create a greener automotive product than any other as well as set a precedent for fear-based marketing, which has become a staple of the electronics industry ever since. No matter what products slap on 'your health first' banners to their campaigns or brands like Facebook or Signal that constantly play on the fear of privacy breaches online, Stanley's legacy is still reverberating.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page