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SNAPSHOT 194: 1903-1905 White Model C

Our thanks are once again due to Teresa Stokes, who has already provided photographs of the cars of her father Adrian Stokes, who is still hale and hearty, and more recently in Snapshot 182 of the Triumph Gloria of her grandfather Colonel Herbert Bland Stokes.

This time we go back one more generation to Teresa’s great grandfather Sir Gabriel Stokes, driving a steam car that was the very best of its day: a White Model C steam car.  The location is India, where Sir Gabriel (1849-1920) was an Indian civil servant and British colonial administrator.  He acted as the Governor of Madras between February and March 1906.

In the 1909 New Year Honours, Stokes was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India for his services to the Crown.  He retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1910, which dates this photograph before that year – and the production dates of the Model C, 1903-1905, fit perfectly with these dates.

Thomas H. White founded the White Sewing Machine Company in 1858 in Templeton, Massachusetts.  The company moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1866. In 1900, Thomas White’s son, Rollin, developed a steam engine, using a corner of one of his father’s factories to start building automobiles.

Rollin White developed a form of water tube steam generator with two novel features: the first was that the coils were all joined at the top of the unit, which allowed water to flow only when pumped, allowing control of the steam generation; the second was pulling steam from the lowest coil, closest to the fire, which allowed the White steamer to operate with superheated steam and thus take advantage of steam’s properties at higher temperatures.  The Model C in our picture was the first White to use a two-cylinder compound engine for greater efficiency, expanding spent steam from the high-pressure cylinder in the larger low-pressure cylinder, before passing the exhaust to the enormous front-mounted condenser to maximise the car’s range on a single fill of water.

White’s brother Windsor took care of general management and their brother Walter looked after sales, promotion and distribution of the product. Cars were produced from 1900, but none were sold until April 1901 to allow extensive testing to ensure that the White cars did not diminish the reputation of the parent company by the introduction of an untested product.

A White was the only car in the 1905 inaugural parade of President Theodore Roosevelt, who became the first U.S. chief executive to drive an automobile when he took the wheel of a White in Puerto Rico the following year.

His successor, President William Howard Taft, established the first official White House automobile fleet in 1909, and a White steamer was included in the Presidential garage.  Other prominent White steam car owners included John D. Rockefeller and Buffalo Bill Cody.  In November of 1906 the White Company was spun off from its parent specifically to make cars, and moved into a brand-new factory at 842 East 79th Street in New York City.  The workforce numbered 1,000.  Unlike rival Stanley, which remained with steam cars exclusively to the end, the White Company added a petrol car to the line in 1910.

The last steam car was built in January 1911 as the company made a transition to petrol-powered vehicles, although White continued to show them in their catalogues as late as 1912.  About 10,000 White steam-powered cars were built, many more than the better-known Stanley.

Picture courtesy of Teresa Stokes


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