Smith Automobile Company
At the beginning of the 20th century, Terry Stafford ran a bicycle shop in Topeka. An article in Scientific American intrigued Stafford and he decided to construct an automobile, even though he had never seen one in person.
“Old Bill” was based on the article description and created great excitement on the streets of Topeka. Stafford drove his car to nearby communities and soon attracted the attention of brothers Anton and Clement Smith, who operated a factory in Topeka.
The Smith brothers specialized in manufacturing artificial limbs, orthopedic and surgical instruments, and trusses. They saw an opportunity to expand their products and hired Stafford as the general manager of the new Smith Automobile Company. In 1902 they began producing the small, lightweight Smith Surreys.
The business relocated to a larger, “state of the art” building with more than 150 employees. Focusing on quality, their motto stated: “Build an automobile at the lowest price at which it can be done well, make it light and strong, and put out no inferior grade.”
Their new larger model, the Veracity, was introduced in 1904, followed in late 1906 by the even larger Great Smith.
Produced until 1911, this car was red with black and gold trimmings and featured elegant upholstery. The Great Smith was right-hand drive and could carry seven passengers—with seating for two in the rear, which could also be folded down or removed. The car featured three forward speeds, one reverse, and could run 15 miles on a gallon of gas. The right foot operated the multi-use pedal, which served as both clutch and brake. The 60 horsepower engine could reach 60 miles per hour. Options included a top, dust cover, side curtains, and a windshield. The 1908 Great Smith was expensive; with extras it sold for $2,787, which translates to $67,220 today.
The Smith brothers fully understood the need for marketing and found some success with the national press. Displaying a Great Smith at a New York auto show in 1906, their publicist said, “We were swamped with orders, and were obliged to turn down at least 150.” In 1907 they produced a special Great Smith for Arthur Capper, editor and publisher of the Topeka Daily Capital. In May 1908 the brothers entered a Great Smith in the Rocky Mountain Endurance Run near Denver, which Motor Age described as the “roughest road ever traveled by any set of cars in any motor car endurance race ever promoted.” The Great Smith placed third. That October a Great Smith in another promotional event became the first automobile to scale Pike’s Peak. The company’s advertising claimed the car was one of a kind.
Out of the Western Setting Sun comes an Automobile—
a car so strongly, solidly, and substantially built as to attract
the attention of even the Mechanical Expert upon first sight—a
big upstanding powerful, capable car—not a model of another
car, but an individual Road
Locomotive in a class by itself.
“It is the most magnificent running car I ever had anything to do with,” Clement Smith said. “It starts smoothly and gathers speed without a jerk. The engine runs so quietly you would hardly know there was an engine in it.”
Stafford left the company in 1907 and went on to start his own manufacturing firm in Kansas City, which continued to produce Staffords until 1915. While the Smith Automobile Company produced luxury cars, competitors offered cars at a much lower cost. The Ford Motor Company in 1909 introduced the Model T using assembly line construction, which sold for $800. Unable to compete, the Smiths sold their last car in 1911.
Clement Smith continued to manufacture medical products. In 1947, just before his death, he donated his personal 1908 Great Smith to the Kansas Historical Society.
Entry: Smith Automobile Company
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2010
Date Modified: July 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.