- Written by webmin
Amid all the celebrations of Mercedes-Benz’s 125th anniversary this year, it’s worth keeping in mind that Daimler and Benz were not the inventors of the automobile. Inventors of the internal combustion automobile perhaps, but the automobile’s history well precedes 1886, as we see from this unassuming piece of property in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, for sale on Hemmings.com.
The man who put this three-story building on the map was not Joel Derby, who built it in 1837 as a cooperage (though keep that date in mind). Nor was it Captain Jason R. Holman or Charles D. Merriman, the business partners who transformed the building into a machine shop in 1865. Rather, it was George Alexander Long, a 15-year-old resident of Northfield, Massachusetts, just over the state line, who came to work at the machine shop as an apprentice in 1875. It was in this shop that Long built a single-cylinder charcoal-fired steam engine, mated it to a four-wheeled carriage with a fifth wheel up front for steering, and created a self-propelled vehicle, what many allege to be the first in the United States. Over the next three years, he proceeded to refine his horseless carriage, running it up to 35 MPH when the local roads permitted. His contraption was not appreciated by all: Northfield banned him from operating it there after he gained a reputation as a demon on wheels, scaring horses off the road and spewing cinders as he drove by. Long simply responded by taking to the streets under the cover of night, though he still managed to rile the locals, who eventually persuaded him to disassemble it in 1878. The chassis went to the town of Hinsdale for use as a (horse-drawn) fire-fighting wagon and the boiler went on a cargo boat that plied the Connecticut River.
Long wasn’t done yet. The next year, he began work on another steam-powered car, this one a 2F1R tricycle with a gasoline-fired V-twin steam engine, assembled in Albert Pope’s Columbia bicycle plant in Hartford, Connecticut. By the early 1880s, he had finished its construction, and in August 1882 he applied for a patent on his “Steam Road-Vehicle,” granted the following July (U.S. Patent 281,091). This tricycle would unbelievably survive and, with the help of 96-year-old George Long, John Bacon would restore it in 1956 before it made its way into the collection of the Smithsonian.
According to the listing for the former Holman-Merriman machine shop, the Federal-styled three-floor, 4,770-square-foot building currently houses a pair of one-bedroom apartments on the second floor, while the first and third floors are used for storage. Asking price is $1,447,000.
For what it’s worth, Long’s story resembles the story of another automotive pioneer who coincidentally hailed from Brattleboro, Vermont, just across the river from Hinsdale. During the early 1830s, John Gore began work on a self-propelled, steam-powered vehicle that he finished in 1837, the same year Joel Derby built his cooperage. According to the Standard Catalog, Gore spent $600 building his automobile with a wood-fired two-cylinder engine, then spent the next decade or so driving it in and around Brattleboro, scaring horses and causing the townspeople of Brattleboro to pass a law prohibiting Gore from driving the steamer unless a boy ringing a bell preceded him. On a trip between Bernardston, Massachusetts, and Brattleboro, Gore crashed the vehicle into a ditch and left it there. He apparently never built another vehicle after that.