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Pierce-Arrow was an American automobile manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, which was active between 1901 and 1938. Best known for its expensive luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also manufactured commercial trucks, fire trucks, camp trailers, motorcycles, and bicycles.
The forerunner of Pierce-Arrow was established in 1865 as Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer. The company was best known for its household items, and especially its delicate, gilded birdcages. In 1872, George N. Pierce bought out the other two, switching the name to George N. Pierce Company and in 1896, bicycles were added to the product range. A failed attempt to build a steam-powered car was made in 1900 with license from Overman, but by 1901 Pierce built its first single-cylinder two-speed (no reverse) Moterette with the engine licensed from de Dion. In 1904, a two cylinder was made named the Arrow.
In 1903 Pierce decided to conceThe forerunner of Pierce-Arrow was established in 1865 as Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer. The company was best known for its household items, and especially its delicate, gilded birdcages. In 1872, George N. Pierce bought out the other two, switching the name to George N. Pierce Company and in 1896, bicycles were added to the product range. A failed attempt to build a steam-powered car was made in 1900 with license from Overman, but by 1901 Pierce built its first single-cylinder two-speed (no reverse) Moterette with the engine licensed from de Dion. In 1904, a two cylinder was made named the Arrow.ntrate on making a larger, more luxurious auto for the upscale market, and the Pierce-Arrow automobile was born. This proved to be Pierce's most successful product, and the solidly-built cars with powerful engines gained positive publicity by winning various auto races. During this period, Pierce's high-end products were sometimes advertised as the Great-Arrow. In 1908 Pierce Motor Company was renamed The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.
In 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrows to be used for state occasions, the first official automobiles of the White House. An open-bodied Pierce-Arrow carried Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding to Harding’s 1921 inauguration.
In 1914, Pierce-Arrow adopted its most enduring styling hallmark when the headlights of the vehicle were moved from the traditional placement to either side of the radiator into flared housings molded into the front fenders of the car. This gave the car an immediate visual identification from the side; at night it gave the car the appearance of a wider stance. Pierce trademarked this placement and it remained in place until the final model in 1938. Hence it is only beginning with the 1939 model year that other American car manufacturers put the headlights in the fenders. Through 1914 Pierce-Arrow also produced a line of motorcycles.
The Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many Hollywood stars, corporate tycoons; royalty of many foreign nations had at least one Pierce-Arrow in their collections. In American luxury cars it was rivaled only by the Peerless and Packard, which collectively received the accolade Three P's of Motordom. Industrial efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth (Cheaper by the Dozen) extolled the virtues of Pierce-Arrow, in both quality and in its ability to safely transport his large family.
Pierce-Arrow advertisements were artistic and understated. Unusually for automobile advertising, the image of the car was in the background rather than the foreground of the picture. Usually only a portion of the automobile was visible. The Pierce-Arrow was typically depicted in elegant and fashionable settings. Some advertisements featured the car in places an automobile would not normally go, such as the West and other rural settings, a testament to car's ruggedness and quality.
Purchase by Studebaker
In 1928, the company was put up for sale as a result of weak sales in the 1920s. The South Bend, Indiana automobile company Studebaker acquired a controlling interest in Pierce-Arrow. Studebaker President Alfred R. Erskine had hoped that adding the prestigious product to its lineup would allow Studebaker to compete with the likes of Packard and Cadillac for a portion of the luxury car market. Under Studebaker’s ownership, Pierce maintained virtual autonomy over its product and product development. Approaching bankruptcy in 1933, Studebaker sold out their interest in Pierce-Arrow to a group of Buffalo businessmen.
With Studebaker's South Bend complex working around the clock, Erskine also saw the production of trucks as one way to better utilize Pierce-Arrow's underused facilities, and get the company into the heavy truck market, a segment that Studebaker was not involved with. To accomplished this SPA Truck Company (Studebaker-Pirece-Arrow) was formed to build high-quality trucks, which began rolling off the assembly line in 1929. Erskine also moved to start talks with White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, which he hoped would complement SPA's product. Talks with White failed in early 1933, and the SPA venture was terminated when Studebaker filed for receivership in March, 1933.
1933 Silver Arrow and the end of the line
In 1933, Pierce-Arrow unveiled the radically streamlined Silver Arrow in a final attempt to appeal to the wealthy at the New York Auto Show; the car was well received by the public and the motoring press. The car was announced with the phrase "Suddenly it's 1940!" and Pierce sold five examples of this car, but since it was priced at $10,000 during the worst of the depression, the rich were hesitant to spend so much on a car. The company subsequently issued a production model named "Silver Arrow"; however, it did not incorporate many of the features of the show car and failed to generate sufficient sales for the company.
Starting in 1936 Pierce-Arrow produced a line of camper-trailers, the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge.
The Rio Grande Southern Railroad converted five Pierce-Arrow automobiles (and a couple of Buicks) into motorized railcars, effectively buses and trucks on rail wheels. The nickname Galloping Goose was soon applied to these vehicles, based on their waddling motion and honking horn. All still survive.
Pierce was the only luxury brand that did not field a lower price car (e.g. Packard 110) to provide cash flow, and without sales or funds for development, the company declared insolvency in 1938 and closed its doors. The final Pierce-Arrow assembled was built by Karl Wise, the firm's Chief Engineer, from parts secured from the company's receivers. Pierce's holdings were sold at auction on Friday, May 13, 1938.
Notable Pierce-Arrow owners
- Emperor Hirohito of Japan
- The Shah of Persia (1930 - $30,000 parade car featuring gold, silk, Siberian wolfhound fur and a jewel-encrusted Royal Crest)
- King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia
- King Albert of Belgium
- President Woodrow Wilson (including a Model A4-66 with 13.5 liter inline-six)
- President William Howard Taft
- Gen. M.O. Terry, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army
- Brig. Gen. J.A. Koster
- Col. Luke Lea, United States Senator from Tennessee
- Hon. C. Bascom Slemp, Congressman from Virginia, Secretary to Calvin Coolidge
- Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt
- John D. Rockefeller
- Mrs. Andrew Carnegie
- Mrs. Sarah Winchester
- Orville Wright
- Babe Ruth
- John Ringling
- Richard Dix
- Thomas Mix
- Ginger Rogers
- Ransom E. Olds, Founder of Oldsmobile and REO automobile companies
- Kenneth R. Kingsbury, President, Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron Corp.)
- Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Efficiency Engineer, subject of the book Cheaper by the Dozen
- Max Adler, Vice President, Sears Holdings Corporation|Sears, Roebuck & Co.
- M.H. Aylesworth, President, National Broadcasting Company
- Paul Carus Author, philosopher & scholar of eastern religions
- Hubert T. Parson, President, F.W. Woolworth Company
- Earl C. Sams, President, J.C. Penney Company
- Robert A. Franks, Vice Chairman & Treasurer, Carnegie Corporation of New York|Carnegie Corporation of N.Y.
- A. Lawrence Lowell, President, Harvard University
- Melvin Purvis, American lawman and FBI agent
Appearances in Fiction
- Britt Reid, the Green Hornet
- Dirk Pitt, hero from the Clive Cussler adventures