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America's First Car

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America's First Automobile: The Baushke Horseless Carriage
Mary and Benjamin Railroad
This Baushke automobile is likely the last surviving example

The Baushke family, prominent citizens in Benton Harbor, Michigan and carriage makers by trade, built America's first car with 4-wheels and seating for 5 people, in 1894.

The Baushke automobile, referred to as an "autymobile", was built in Benton Harbor as an experimental investment idea, which if successful, would lead to grandiose plans of manufacturing these "horseless carriages" at the Baushke Carriage Works located in downtown Benton Harbor on West Main Street.

Louis and Albert Baushke were the brothers who, for years, made fine wagons, buggies, and surreys in their 3-story frame carriage works.

Their 5-passenger "autymobile" was the first car America ever set eyes upon. Albert Baushke did the ironwork and Louis Baushke turned out the woodwork. There was an inventor and engineer at the Courtwright Steam Pump factory who was engaged to collaborate on an explosive gas engine.

Secrecy and mystery surrounded the development of the model - which was more effective publicity than any form of paid propaganda. Before the day of the first trial, an offer was received from Europe of, a then, fabulous sum for the invention if it was successful.

Came the day when it was ready for public inspection ...

Main Street was lined with people clear down to the Baushke Carriage Works. "Thar she comes," shouted someone, and sure enough, a horseless carriage emitting smoke and sparks, amid the shouts and hurrahs of the crowds, moved up Main Street, and came to a dead stop in front of Lew Burridge's boot and shoe store. The "knowin" ones said the repercussion or "somethin' by gosh" was greater than the drivin' force of the engine itself.

It was a sensation in its day! The machine was powered by a 7.5-horsepower gasoline engine, a friction drive and could travel at the then unheard of speed of 23.5 mph. Truly ahead of its time, the Baushkes had the engine concealed from view under the seat with neither the chain drive nor the gearing visible. In fact, the vehicle gave the general appearance of any other buggy seen on the streets in its day - but without a horse.

For several months afterwards, the machine was seen on the streets of Benton Harbor, frightening horses and exciting the ridicule and speculation of the doubting Thomases. It would stop at the most unexpected times and places, and had to be lifted around turns and corners. What it really needed to make it an outstanding success was the floating axle and carburetor, which came later.

Now here is the sad part of the whole situation - the engineer from the Courtwright Steam Pump factory, took the idea down to Kokomo, Indiana where he helped to develop the Haynes machine, which was afterwards proclaimed the first automobile, with Benton Harbor and the Baushke brothers missing the distinction and honor which was rightfully theirs as the inventors of the first real American automobile.

Had the Baushkes gone on with their automobile plans and development, Benton Harbor might have been the automobile capital of the world instead of Detroit, says Arthur Baushke, son of Louis Baushke, who, with his brother, saw the coming of the automotive age.

Members of the Baushke family were early converts to the Israelite Faith as practiced by Benjamin and Mary Purnell. In fact, the final decision to locate the House of David colony in Benton Harbor was due in part to the Baushke's supportive presence in the city. Early colonists lived in buildings provided by the Baushkes and it is the Baushkes who helped finance the original purchase of colony property along Britain Avenue.

The seat design on their automobile was very similar to the passenger seats later found on the miniature Mary and Benjamin Railroad -- designed and built at the colony. It is very likely that the Baushkes had a hand in the design of the railroad.

Today, sadly, the work of the Baushke Carriage Works is a true rarity. This photo is probably the last surviving example of their work built in about 1895.



For more information on this remarkable chapter in the history of Southwest Michigan, visit the following websites:

Israelite House of David:
www.israelitehouseofdavid.com

Mary's City of David:
www.maryscityofdavid.org


 


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