Dayton is widely known for the contributions of engineer and inventor Charles Kettering, whose electric ignition system and self-starter first appeared on the 1912 Cadillac, making early cars easier to operate.
In the early 1900s, at least 10 separate Dayton factories turned out dozens of models of cars.
Many of these were being manufactured in the Miami Valley, including models with names like Advance, Meteor and Buggy-About.
The best-remembered names from Dayton’s automotive past are Maxwell, Speedwell, Courier and Stoddard-Dayton.
Dayton Motor Car Co.
The first, and perhaps the most majestic, of these early cars manufactured in the Gem City was the Stoddard-Dayton, which was manufactured from 1905 to 1912.
John W. Stoddard formed the J.W. Stoddard Co., which specialized in agricultural implements. Decades later, the owners of the company changed its name to the Dayton Motor Car Co. and began manufacturing automobiles in 1905.
From the companies plant, on the corner of Bacon and Bainbridge streets, the first models were produced, selling for under $2,500, featuring a 35-horsepower motor. Extra items included windshield, speedometer or mohair top.
Over the years the Stoddard-Dayton developed a reputation as a solid, reliable and technologically advanced car.
In 1909, a Stoddard won the first race held at the Indianapolis Speedway, buzzing around the track at an average speed of 57.3 miles per hour.
The Dayton Motor Car Co. had two subsidiaries, The Courier Car Co. and the Maxwell Motor Co.
The Dayton Motor Car Co. was bought by the U.S. Motor Car Co. in 1912, becoming one of over 130 previously independent carmakers operating under the banner of the larger firm. The conglomerations of companies failed the following year, take the Stoddard-Dayton and the Courier into oblivion with it.
The Maxwell remained in production by companies, including Chrysler, until 1925.
The Speedwell Motor Car Co.
Pierce Schenck formed the Speedwell Motor Car Co. in 1907 and came out with 25 cars that year. The car remained a small-production item, with only 100 being made the following year.
The company made its contributions to automotive technology, including what is believed to be the first rotary engine - the Mead rotary valve engine developed by Daytonian Cyrus Mead.
The Speedwell Co. was nearly ruined in 1913 when the Dayton flood destroyed almost an entire year’s worth of production. Soon after the company could not compete in the competitive car market and the firm folded.
Although the companies that made cars in Dayton eventually died off, they made lasting contributions to what was a rapidly developing industry.