YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The history of the Mahoning Valley is intertwined with the automobile industry.
In fact, one of the nation’s earliest automakers – the Mahoning Motor Car Co. – had its plant in downtown Youngstown from 1904 to 1906. Of the 95 vehicles that Mahoning Motor Car produced, only one survives.
Now, thanks to a gift by members of the Williamson family, that open-top vehicle has been acquired by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and is on permanent display in the lobby of Tyler History Center, downtown.
The 1905 Mahoning Touring Car was built specifically for Warren P. Williamson Sr., who was a principal of the short-lived company. His son, Warren P. Williamson Jr;l was the founded of WKBN radio and television.
It was presented to the history society Thursday in an unveiling ceremony at the Tyler led by Warren P. “Bud” Williamson III, the grandson of the late industrialist and business pioneer.
“We thought it was very important for the community to see it and understand it,” Williamson said.
William Lawson, executive director of the history society, called the vehicle “a new and extraordinary addition to the museum… It’s very rare that cars of this era survived and were restored.” He would not reveal the price of the purchase except to say that it is “substantial.”
The 1905 car is made of wood with many brass features. Most vehicles produced by Mahoning Motor Car had one-cylinder engines and were air-cooled. However, this one has a two-cylinder engine and is water-cooled. It “makes a lot of noise and smoke” but still is operational, Williamson said.
Scott Schulick, president of the MVHS board of directors, called the vehicle “a magnificent gift not just for the historical society but for the community. The Williamsons were pioneers in the Mahoning Valley but more importantly they were inventors. This is the beginning of the auto industry in the Valley.”
Mahoning Motor Car’s plant was at the southeast corner of Hazel and Boardman streets, the present site of Amedia Tower. It started as the Youngstown Carriage and Wagon Co., which made horse-drawn wagons.
The car was in the Williamson family for decades until one of the founder’s sons sold it. Its ownership is unclear for a short period at this time, but the vehicle would soon wind up in the hands of Al Wagner, who operated a car dealership on Market Street on Youngstown’s south side.
The vehicle survived a fire at the dealership, after which Paul Diehl, who was one of the dealer’s mechanics, took possession of it. It was then purchased by late Valley businessman Dick Best, who researched its history and then had it faithfully restored to its original condition, finishing the project in 1975.
After Best’s death, one of his sons assumed ownership and later sold it to the Don Snyder family of Springfield Township.
The Williamson family had long been interested in having the car put on display for the public and underwrote the MVHS’ purchase of it this summer.
“Now, it’s a permanent part of our collection,” said the MVHS’ Lawson.
The vehicle is a relic from the earliest era of auto manufacturing. “During the period of 1890 to 1910, across the country, groups [of businessmen] were getting together in cities to make cars,” Lawson said. “Youngstown was no different. As the industry grew and matured, it changed. By 1910, there was General Motors and Ford was introducing the assembly line. A lot of the small companies that survived were acquired by the large ones.” The rest eventually went out of business.
The vehicle acquired by the MVHS was built just three blocks from its final resting place at the Tyler.
It bears the serial number 17, which means it was the 17th of the 95 vehicles built by Mahoning Motor Car during its two years of operation.
Like the horse-drawn carriages that the company’s forebear manufactured, the touring car was hand-made, and constructed of wood.
The acquisition comes just days before the MVHS marks its 146th Founders Day. On Sunday, the Tyler History Center will have an open house with free admission and free parking. Lawson said it will be the 1905 vehicle’s first large-scale exposure to the general public.
The acquisition follows two other major announcements made in the past month by the historical society. On Aug. 9, the MVHS media archives were renamed in honor of the late Lowry A. Stewart, a member of the Williamson family who spearheaded their preservation. The Williamson family donated more than $500,000 toward its upkeep.
That was followed by a $1 million gift from the estate of Jeanne D. Tyler, who was an original benefactor who helped create the Tyler History Center.
Pictured: The Mahoning Touring Car built by the Mahoning Motorcar Co. is displayed in the lobby of the Tyler History Center downtown.