While there are some discrepancies, it is generally accepted that the Schloemer Motor Wagon was built in 1890 and first driven in 1892, which would pre-date the Duryea by one year and would make it the first gas-powered automobile in the United States. A witness at the time claimed that the vehicle was conceived “over a bucket of beer” by coppersmith and blacksmith Gottfried Schloemer and his friend, locksmith Frank Toepfer. Schloemer designed a combination differential and drive pinion, a make-and-break spark system, possibly the first automobile muffler, and a wick-type carburetor which has erroneously often been reported to have the first patent for a carburetor.
When the Motor Wagon was restored years later by museum volunteer Herbert Smith, he determined that the engine had been replaced, probably by Cusick to make it drivable for display. The replacement engine was a four-stroke cycle Wolverine Junior, but the original was likely an early Sintz two-stroke cycle. Some modifications had been made which were not consistent with the original excellent workmanship.
A fundamental part of the SAH and WSAH mission is to promote the accurate recording of automotive history. Research on the Schloemer, like much other research, shows several examples of discrepancies, some from newspapers within a few years of the car’s first appearance on Milwaukee’s streets. When things are repeated enough they are assumed to be factual without documentation, resulting in such “facts” as all Model T’s were black and the first Mustangs were 1964 models. It is sometimes very difficult to ascertain facts, especially dates, unless those were well documented at the time. This article is meant to give an overview and hopefully will encourage members to do more research, compare various sources, and seek out what they find to be the most accurate information on which to base their conclusions. (back to Activities)