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Cool Things - Great Smith Automobile

Great Smith automobile

This luxury vehicle was made in Topeka during the early years of the automobile industry.

"It makes no difference if your automobile is made in France or Topeka."--1904 "Veracity" Catalog, Smith Automobile Company

Around the turn of the 20th century, many Americans were developing distinctive versions of the gasoline-powered automobile. One Kansan, Terry Stafford of Topeka, succeeded in building his own automobile in the spring of 1900.

Stafford became chief engineer of the Smith Automobile Company just two years later. The company's financial backing came from two brothers, Drs. Anton and Clement Smith. The Smiths already were established entrepreneurs in Topeka, producing a range of items that included trusses, artificial limbs, orthopedic equipment, archery gear, and harps. To this list of products they added the Great Smith automobile.

Smith Auto Factory, Topeka, early 1900sNo expense was spared by the Smith brothers in building an automobile factory (pictured at left) filled with the best equipment, in order to produce nearly all the parts for their cars in Topeka. Their motto was, "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."

Great Smith automobiles were entered in several races, nearly always performing well and often winning. In a 1908 publicity stunt, a Great Smith became the first car to climb Pike's Peak, doing so under wintry conditions and using a long-abandoned stagecoach road.

The Smith Automobile Company produced well-built, dependable cars for ten years. But what the car had in quality, it lacked in economy. When new, the Great Smith Touring Car pictured here cost $2,650. Adding frills--a top, dust cover, side curtains and a windshield--increased the price to $2,787.  The car had three forward speeds and one reverse speed. It ran 15 miles on a gallon of gas. A box on the left running board contained a spare battery, and a box on the right running board held a refrigerator.

By comparison, other automakers--such as Ford--could produce a dependable car with no frills for about $800. As a result, the Smith brothers produced their last cars in 1911.

In 1947 Clement Smith donated a 1908 Great Smith to the Kansas Historical Society. At some point the car had been converted into a pickup truck, but before its arrival at the Historical Society, Smith restored it to the original condition.

This Great Smith is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Cool Things - Great Smith Automobile

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: January 2005

Date Modified: July 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.