The best-known car built early on was the Stoddard Dayton manufactured by the Dayton Motor Car. Co., according to Peterson. The factory, spanning three city blocks at Third and McDonough streets, produced close to 125 cars in 1905. Two years later, it was producing more than 2,000 cars.
Stoddard Dayton, Speedwell, Maxwell and Courier were among the many names Dayton car enthusiasts would have been familiar with in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
The automotive inventions of Dayton’s Charles F. Kettering were also common in the vocabulary of the automobile.
The self-starting motor revolutionized transportation by eliminating the back-breaking hand crank, making it easier and safer for drivers to start their automobiles. Introduced in the 1912 Cadillac and patented in 1915, the self-starter became standard in most new automobiles by 1920.
Spark plugs, quick-drying automotive paint, leaded gasoline, shock absorbers, automatic transmissions, four-wheel brakes, safety glass and the diesel engine are also among Kettering’s automotive innovations.
Peterson describes the early automobile style depicted in many of these photographs as utilitarian. The hoods were rounded, and the grills were at stark angles. The roofs were boxy, and the front window was a large square.
“The Ford Model T sat way up high because the roads were awful and people would drive across a creek or a field to get to somebody’s house,” said Peterson. “They were sort of like an SUV before we knew what they were.”
The automobile transformed life for many Daytonians.
“It gave them mobility and it gave them the opportunity to go places they hadn’t gone before,” Peterson said. “It was the difference between riding in a wagon pulled by two horses and hopping in a car to go somewhere. It’s why people on Sundays would hop in their cars and go places because they never could do that before.”
The advent of automobiles and the technology around them impacted Dayton for decades, said Peterson, who noted that Dayton has transitioned to a new kind of car town - one with a huge appreciation for collector cars.