What’s maddening about this photo of an amphibious automobile from the George Grantham Bain collection in the Library of Congress archives isn’t that it’s presented in the archives without context – we can easily find out the who, what, when – it’s that, despite all of our research, we still don’t know precisely why this amphibious automobile was built.

Hans Rosloot’s Amphiclopedia identifies the vehicle as the 1907 Ravaillier Canot-Voiture-Touriste, the product of years of tinkering by Parisian Jules Julien Ravaillier. Most sources simply describe Ravaillier as an engineer or inventor, but one German source describes him as an automobile builder; we’ve yet to find any reference to Ravaillier separate from his invention.

Fortunately, we know a good deal about the Canot-Voiture-Touriste. Essentially a four-passenger steel-hulled powerboat mated to an automobile chassis, a Gontallier 20hp (some sources say 12hp) four-cylinder gasoline engine and three-speed manual transmission sent power via shaft to the propeller at the aft of the boat. To transition to land use, a lever disconnected the propeller and directed power to the rear wheels via chain drive. The steering wheel turned both the front wheels and the rudder. On land, the get-up was worth about 22 MPH; on sea, five-and-a-half miles per hour. If it was having trouble climbing a bank to get out of the water, a capstan toward the front of the canoe-carriage could help pull it to dry land. The solid galvanized steel wheels were fitted with solid rubber tires, and every axle passage through the hull was made watertight. While the engine was water-cooled, the coolant circulated through the two deck-mounted radiators. Brakes were fitted to the transmission and the rear axle hubs.

Ravaillier filed a patent for his Canot-Voiture-Touriste (U.S. Patent 875,210, as a Canoe-Carriage) in the United States in 1907, the same year he made his final trials of the vehicle on the roads of Paris and in the waters of the Seine. Some confusion seems to exist on whether those trials were conducted for the benefit of the French War Department or if the French War Department simply happened to observe the trials. In either case, while the canoe-carriage seemed to have performed admirably, nothing of substance appears to have resulted from Ravaillier’s work. An American named George E. Crater, of Stanhope, New Jersey, bought the canoe-carriage and its patent rights and brought it to the United States that year, ostensibly to enter production with it.

Interestingly, it seemed to have gained the name Waterland I on its arrival in the United States, when Crater paraded it up and down the streets of Manhattan before plunging into the Hudson River. A Special Interest Autos article about amphibious automobiles mentioned the Waterland I, but put it in the hands of a Julian P. Thomas. Thomas, an incorporator and presumably the namesake of the New York-based Thomas Battery Company, was best known around the New York City area as a balloonist and early automobile fancier.

The whereabouts of the Ravaillier are unknown.