The White Co. delivers innovation through history

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

“Our standard has always been to build a car able to surmount any road conditions which might be encountered. And our motto — The Incomparable White — the car for Service.”

So reads an advertising jingle written by representatives of the White Company, developers of early steam driven vehicles like the one shown in this promotional postcard published for the Kansas City Auto Parade. At the time, Kansas City’s White dealer was located in the 1100 block of East 15th St — now Truman Road.

In 1898, Rollin H. White, the son of Thomas H. White, who for many years manufactured sewing machines, graduated from Cornell University’s Engineering school with a brave new idea about the generation of steam power. White patented his idea which was the basis for the development of the first steam driven automobile.

Rollin’s thesis for graduation developed an entirely new system for the generation of steam. This idea was patented and formed the foundation for the development of the first White Steam Car.

As the early years of the 20th Century progressed, White’s invention took hold and began to garner some serious awards not only for reliability, but also for speed.

In 1905, a specially built White Steamer dubbed “Whistling Billy” beat out a 90 horsepower Fiat and a 60 horsepower Thomas for top honors at a race track in New York. Wevy Jay, the racer who piloted the car, clocked a top speed of 74.07 mph and covered the mile in just over 48 seconds.

Despite its ardent following however, the White company began to see the handwriting on the wall and in 1909 produced its first internal combustion gasoline powered engine.

The era of the steam powered automobile was coming to an end. Within six years, White had shifted almost all of its production to medium and heavy duty trucks. During World Was I, White supplied trucks to the allies for moving tanks and heavy equipment.

Its biggest move, however, came when Consolidated Freightways began production of its own truck to pull heavy loads up steep grades in the mountain states. Their truck, dubbed “Freightliners” were produced in the company’s Salt Lake facility in the late 1930s.

After WW II, Freightliners were distributed nationwide through an agreement with White Motor Company. White Freightliners became a staple of trucking companies across the country and were a common sight on the nation’s highways through the late 1980s.

Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the White brand is hardly visible today on anything other than sewing machines, its original core product.

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