Gottfreid Schloemer photo
Most WSAH members will recall our 2015 donation to the Milwaukee Public Museum for encasing the Schloemer Motor Wagon in the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit. This brief article is an attempt to summarize information from several sources on the Schloemer, including our own Wisconsin Cars and Trucks book, the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, and various newspaper and other articles found online.

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.

By 1892, Schloemer began looking for financial backing for his plan to establish a car factory in Milwaukee, but the market crash of 1893 seems to have wiped out that plan. Schloemer then bought a farm and applied his mechanical knowledge to developing farm equipment. The Motor Wagon was stored until 1920, when he traded it to West Allis car dealer Fay Cusick for a Maxwell. Cusick displayed the car at fairs and auto shows, and then in 1930, several friends of the Milwaukee Public Museum purchased the car for $4,000 and donated it to the museum.

patentWhen 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)