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First Production Motor Vehicles in California

Display of first production automobile in California - restored 1902 Auto Vehicle Company vehicle at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

The first production motor vehicles in California were built in 1902 in Los Angeles by the Auto Vehicle Company. The company, first located at 943 North Main Street, was founded by William H. Burnham of Orange, California, Carrol S. Hartman of Pasadena and Willis D. Longyear of Ocean Park. Ralph B. Hain designed the first model (with a single cylinder engine) and twelve were built in the first year. The company never produced large numbers of vehicles. Only 17 were produced in 1903 (improved with two and four cylinder water-cooled engines); 75 in 1904; 150 in 1905. In 1905, the company, adding trucks to their line-up, moved to a larger manufacturing facility at the northeast corner of Tenth (now Olympic) and Main Streets (now the California Market Center). The “Tourist” model was priced at $1,700 and, for a time, was the most popular motor car in California. Trucks were added and, by the end of 1906, annual production had climbed to 486, followed by about the same number in 1907. In 1907, the company also introduced the first gasoline-powered fire engine manufactured on the West Coast. The following year, hoping to sell the City of Los Angeles its first motorized fire engine, Auto Vehicle Company demonstrated to city council and fire department officials how their fire engine could hit speeds up to 35 mph carrying 12 men and fire equipment. The sale, however, was lost to the Seagrave Company.

In 1909, after the death of a partner and a desire by surviving partners to get out of the business, Auto Vehicle Company was sold to newly-formed California Automobile Company (also of Los Angeles – an earlier company with the same name existed in San Francisco, 1900-1902). The new owners took over the Tenth and Main facility and pledged to continue honoring warranties and service. Manufacture of former Auto Vehicle Company gasoline-powered vehicles ceased a year later in 1910, however, so that the new company could pursue the manufacture of electric vehicles. By then, 2,692 “Tourist” units had been produced.

Sources: Herald Examiner & California Digital Newspaper Collection, UC Riverside
Classic Car 4 You
ConceptCarz.com Otro Mundo Es Posible
Dick Burnham at LAFire.com

First production motor vehicle in California by Auto Vehicle Company, Los Angeles, 1902.