The White Motor Company was a manufacturer of a white steamer car from 1900 to 1980. The company also made trucks, sewing machines, bicycles, and roller skates. It was based in Cleveland, Ohio. Today, there are a very few models of the white steamer car running in the US with the number estimated at 150.
The founder of the White Motor Company was Thomas H. White. The history of the white steamer car is traced when White bought a Locomotive steam car. Although the car had an unreliable boiler, White’s son, Rollin improved on this design by controlling the temperature of the steam and steam generation. The design was patented and Rollin worked closely with his other brothers with the first white steamer cars released for public sale in April 1901. Rollin White continued to improve the design and in 1905, a white steamer car called Whistling Billy set a driving speed record of 73.75 mph. Even former president Taft bought himself a white steamer car in 1909, which became the first official vehicle of the President of the United States. It was probably the best model of a white steamer car and gave the White Motor Company free publicity.
A white steamer car uses steam generated by its boiler to power the vehicle similar to how trains and locomotives were run. That made it a unique technology to power the car at that time. In addition, the engines exclusive of the boiler were lighter than those using internal combustion engines. Its speed record was quite impressive in its heyday with velocity reaching at nearly 74 mph. Because of steam boilers, the steam car was also quieter and did not make such a noise when driven down the street. Again, these were features of the white steamer car that were significant breakthroughs at that time. Nowadays, engines have also been redesigned which are quiet, fuel-efficient, and environmentally friendly (low carbon emissions).
Another advantage of the white steamer car at that time was that they could be quickly driven once they were warmed enough. Drivers could accelerate quickly. But, in cold temperatures a white steamer car could take more than a minute to warm up and this issue was addressed by installing flash boilers that could instantly warm up steamer cars.
The closest competitor of the white steamer car was the Stanley Steamer which is the best known and most popular of all steamer cars. However, the White Motor Company produced the most number of steamer cars, overtaking Stanley Steamer. The company produced 10,000 + units of white steamer cars, but there are only a few remaining in the world today.
Technological advances notably the adoption of gasoline-powered devices contributed to the demise of the white steamer car. From steaming power, White shifted to the use of gas technology to power cars and purchased the rights to the Delahaye cars fueled by gas. At the same time, White was more interested in making tractors and agricultural machineries than continuing with the production of a white steamer car. The last batch of white steamer cars was made in 1910 although they were still available in catalogs until 1912.
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Today, a white steamer car is owned by a few car enthusiasts and they are regarded more as collectibles attesting to that era when the first breakthroughs in car power were discovered. Like any other brand of steamer car, they are symbols of that period where no one would ever have thought that a car could move at such speeds or that it can be powered by steam.