Thomas H. White began manufacturing sewing machines in Massachusetts in partnership with William L. Grout. Following the Civil War he moved to Cleveland where he established the White Sewing Machine Company and at the turn of the century his sons (like the Grout brothers in Massachusetts) moved the company into the manufacture of steam cars.
A semi-flash boiler invented by Rollin White in the late 1890s provided the impetus, though brothers Windsor and Walter were involved in the automaking venture from the beginning. By the spring of 1900, four White steam cars had been built, and the company’s first truck followed that year; production in 1901 climbed to 193 units. In the New York to Buffalo Endurance Run of 1901 four Whites were entered, each of them being awarded a first-class certificate.
The first Whites were chain-drive, tiller-steered, wire-wheeled stanhopes, with their two-cylinder engines mounted under the floorboards.
A condenser to recycle exhaust steam was added in 1902, and in 1903 saw the White lose its buggy look with the engine now mounted up front under a hood in a touring model, and the substitution of wooden artillery wheels and shaft drive.
A total of 502 cars were produced in 1903. Nineteen five saw introduction of the hood design known as the “white curve,” which remained a distinguishing feature of White cars to the end- and White trucks into the 1930s.
A special racing White nicknamed “Whistling Billy” and driven by Webb Jay set a world’s mile record of 73.75 mph at Morris Park Track in July of 1905, catapulted the White steamer into national prominence, and was a principal factor in the healthy increase in White sales: 1,015 cars in 1905, 1,534 in 1906.
The latter represented the White steamer’s peak annual production, and was about twice the number of cars produced by its principal rival, Stanley, in any single calendar year. 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. Until 1906 White’s automobile business was simply part of the White Sewing Machine Company; in November of that year it was given its own producing organization, the White Company, capitalized at $2.5 million and the company 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 gasoline car to the line in 1910.
In January 1911 the last White steam car was built and in 1918 the White Motor Company ended the manufacture of passenger cars to concentrate on the commercial vehicle field.
Kimes, Beverly Rae. Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942. Iola, WI: Krause