|1906 Thomas Flyer stuck in the mud|
Buffalo, New York was the perfect place to start an automobile company at the turn of the twentieth century. At the time of the Pan-American Exhibition held in Buffalo in 1901, the city was an industrial powerhouse and one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Thus, Buffalo was the choice for Edwin Ross Thomas to open up shop. Thomas was 47 years old and an established businessman when he started manufacturing motorcycles in 1899. Born in Westmoreland County, PA, he attended college in Pittsburgh (Duff’s College – now the Everest Institute’s Pittsburgh campus). He had already been involved in mining, transportation, and real estate when he married Flora Lozier (they had three children) and became a managing partner in H.A. Lozier, the “Bicycle King of America”. Lozier produced the “Cleveland” brand of bicycles and would sell the bicycle business to Col. Pope (manufacturer of the Columbia brand bicycle and a line of electric vehicles – later a line of gas powered vehicles under the Pope name) in 1899. H.A. Lozier would go on to build automobiles in Cleveland and Thomas (who sold his automobile & bicycle interests in The H.A. Lozier Company at the same time) would start manufacturing vehicles in Buffalo.
I believe this picture shows a 1906 Thomas Flyer (4 cylinder, 50hp) with its distinctive tulip body and the owners initials in script on the radiator (E.G.B.?). Thomas started building four wheeled vehicles in 1902 and by 1906 had earned a reputation for powerful, high quality cars (it’s primary competition being the Pierce-Arrow Motor Company located in the same city). Thomas promoted their cars through competition and 1906 was a banner year with a few of their accomplishments noted here:
- Perfect score in the Glidden Tour
- Three perfect scores (all three cars entered) in the Chicago-Elgin-Aurora endurance contest
- Two perfect scores (all two cars entered) in the San Francisco – Del Monte reliability run
- Road record for Buffalo to Rochester over 68 miles in 1.32:45
- Hill Climbing record in the California Pasadena-Altadena course
- Stock car touring record for five miles, standing start, in 4:45 at Atlantic City
- Stock car touring record for twenty-five miles in 34:36 at Saint Louis
- First place for fifty miles for touring cars at Pimlico track in Baltimore1906 was also the year that the E.R. Thomas Company built three 6 cylinder race cars (115hp) for the American Elimination Trails for the Vanderbilt cup race – the car driven by Hubert LeBlon would qualify and finish the race in 8th place. As you can see the Thomas Company was well tested when they entered (and won) the New York Times’ New York to Paris race in 1908 (with a 1907 model 35, 70hp 6 cylinder touring car – now in the National Automobile Museum).
1906 was also the year Thomas joined with Roy Chapin and Howard Coffin (who had left Oldsmobile) to license the manufacturing of the Thomas-Detroit automobiles in Detroit. Chapin and Coffin would recruit Hugh Chalmers to join them (changing the name to Chalmers-Detroit) and soon after leave to start the Hudson Motor Car Co (at which time Chalmers would buy out Thomas’ shares and shorten the name to Chalmers). E.R. Thomas recognized the declining market for high-prices vehicles and sold the company to investors in 1911 (the company would go bankrupt in 1913 – the factory building still stands in Buffalo). Mr. Thomas stayed busy, still active in E.R. Thomas Realty Co, Taxi-Motor Cab Co (Boston), Federal Taxicab Co (Washington), the Central National Bank of Buffalo, and the Iron Elevator & Transfer Co.