The C. R. Patterson & Sons Company was the first Black-owned automobile manufacturer in the United States. The company was initially began by a former slave and his eldest son took the family business to greater heights in the early 20th Century.
Charles Richard Patterson was a former slave who escaped captivity in Virginia, then settled in Greenfield, Ohio. Patterson worked as a blacksmith for various local horse-drawn carriage companies and became friendly with white carriage company owner, J.P. Lowe. The pair went into business together in 1873 and maintained a successful business relationship.
In 1893, Patterson split with his partner and began C.R. Patterson & Sons. The company enjoyed some early success but the automobile industry’s evolution impacted the horse-powered vehicles Patterson specialized in. After Patterson died in 1910, his son, Richard, took over the family business.
The younger Patterson, who was the first Black football player at Ohio State University, debuted the company’s first Patterson-Greenfield automobile. The car sold for $850 and was reportedly a superior vehicle to the vaunted Model T Ford that debuted in 1908.
The company shifted gears to manufacturing buses and other vehicles after slow sales due to the market dominance of Ford at the time. While the company should have turned Greenfield into the next Detroit, the Great Depression impacted the business negatively.
Patterson & Sons eventually shuttered its doors in 1939 and while revival attempts were made with other names, it would never return to its former glory.