Home Business and Labor Maine Twins Invent the Stanley Steamer, Climb Mt. Washington

Maine Twins Invent the Stanley Steamer, Climb Mt. Washington

They'd built the car in Watertown, Massachusetts


Freelan O. Stanley and his wife Flora climbed Mt. Washington in a Stanley Steamer on Aug. 31, 1899, in one of the earliest publicity stunts in the automotive industry.

Stanley Steamer climbs Mt. Washington.

Stanley Steamer climbs Mt. Washington.

It was also the first time any automobile had climbed the mountain, the tallest in the northeastern United States. It took two hours for the Stanley Steamer to climb the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Carriage Road in New Hampshire.

“We went on, and up, up, still up, the continuous climbing being varied only by a steepness so excessive that we felt a sickening anxiety lest each brilliant dash should be our last,” Mrs. Stanley wrote.

Freelan O. Stanley and his twin brother Francis Edgar, known as F.O. and F.E., made several brilliant dashes during their uniquely inventive lifetimes. They pioneered automobile manufacturing, carved concert-quality violins, invented the airbrush, developed the first practical dry photographic plate process and built a hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining.

Maine Beginnings

F.E. Stanley

F.E. Stanley

The Stanley twins were born in tiny Kingfield, Maine, on June 1, 1849, to Solomon Stanley and Apphia Kezar French. Their grandfather, Liberty Stanley, taught them to carve concert-quality violins by the time they were 10.

They attended Western State Normal School, now known as the University of Maine at Farmington. Both then went into teaching, but didn’t last long.

F.O. made school mechanical drawing kits on the side in Mechanic Falls, Maine. The factory burned down, and as F.O. had no insurance, he joined his brother in the photography business in Lewiston, Maine.

F.E. had bought a photographic studio in 1875 for $500. Together the brothers developed the photographic dry plate process, which would revolutionize photography. Then in 1888, they moved their business to Watertown, Mass. The move changed the direction of their  lives and their business.

Horseless Carriage

In 1896, F.O. and F.E. Stanley went to the Brockton Fair and saw a horseless carriage. They were intrigued.

F.E. was familiar with steam engines, and the brothers went to work building their own steam-powered car in 1897 — the first Stanley Steamer.

In 1898, F.E. broke a world speed record with the car in front of 5,000 spectators. He drove around a track at an average speed of 27.4 mph without a breakdown. Soon they were swamped with orders for Stanley Steamers. They decided to sell their photography business and concentrate on cars.

F. O. Stanley

F. O. Stanley, Stanley Steamer co-inventor

The twins sold their company and patents to the Eastman-Kodak Co. for $500,000. Then they started building the Stanley Steamer in an old bicycle plant in Watertown.

Headquartered in Newton, Mass., they produced 200 Stanley Steamers within a year. They were the first to sell commercial quantities of automobiles. Between 1897 and 1914 they made and sold more than 10,000 Stanley Steamers.

Upside-Down Canoe

F.O. and F.E. built a steam-powered race car in 1906 that set a record unbroken for 103 years.

In their Watertown plant they used an aerodynamic design in a race car they called the Stanley Rocket. Three feet wide and 16 feet long, it was described as an upside-down canoe. Race car driver Fred Marriott in 1906 drove the Rocket 127.66 mph on the hard sand of Ormond Beach, Fla., setting a world speed record. A gasoline-powered car went faster four years later, but it wasn’t until 2009 that another steam-powered vehicle broke the Stanley Rocket record. Charles Burnett III did it by reaching 136 mph and 151 mph in the Mojave Desert.

But by 1914, the technology of gasoline-powered automobiles eclipsed that of the steam cars. The twins sold the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1917.

F.E. died on July 13, 1918, in Ipswich, Mass., when he crashed his Stanley Steamer into a woodpile while trying to avoid farm wagons driving side by side. Newspapers made much of ‘inventor killed by his own creation.’

F.O., who suffered from tuberculosis, built a hotel in Estes Park, Colo., and lobbied for the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park.

He died at home in Newton, Mass., on Oct. 2, 1940.

You can visit the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, Maine, Tuesday through Sunday afternoons in the summer.

Fred Marriott in the Stanley Rocket

Fred Marriott in the Stanley Rocket

If you enjoyed this story about the Stanley Steamer, you may also like to read about Vermonter Henry Martyn Leland, the forgotten car king here. This story was updated in 2023.


Amanda Lippold Little June 1, 2014 - 7:29 pm

I keep thinking of the Stanley steamer carpet cleaning company. Any relation or correlation?

Patty Wright June 1, 2014 - 8:28 pm

Stanley steamers were a type of automobile

Marilyn Kearns Hilborn June 1, 2014 - 11:18 pm

We drove up Mt. Washington and was the most frightening ride I have ever taken. The worst part was that we then had to go back down. I can’t imagine taking that ride back then.

Russell Grantner June 2, 2014 - 12:12 am

Frank Rehak thought you might like

Amanda Lippold Little June 2, 2014 - 7:47 am

Yes I know it was an automobile, I read the article.

Cheryl Hooper-Feeney June 2, 2014 - 8:04 am


Flashback Photos: New England's Love Affair With Ice Cream | New England Historical Society July 24, 2014 - 4:24 pm

[…] automobile also owes much to New England, where the Duryea brothers and Stanley twins pioneered early automobile […]

Flashback Photo: Fred Marriott Sets the Steam Speed Record - New England Historical Society April 28, 2015 - 7:44 am

[…] Stanley Steamer, invented by a pair of Maine twins, was the first automobile sold in commercial quantities. F.O. […]

Four New England Malls – Landmarks of Changing Times - New England Historical Society May 28, 2015 - 7:54 am

[…] he had bigger ideas. He saw how rapidly the automobile was changing the culture. And shopping, he believed, was bound to change. With cars that needed […]

Atwater Kent - The Vermonter Who Sparked The Radio Craze in 1921 - New England Historical Society March 1, 2016 - 9:57 am

[…] for electricity, he went to work designing an ignition system that dramatically improved the way cars operated. He had started his company even before entering college in 1895, and the Kent Electric […]

The Rise and Dissipation of the Stanleys’ Steamers | FunViralTrends November 27, 2017 - 7:36 am

[…] By funviraltrends – November 9, 2017 newenglandhistoricalsociety.com […]

The Highest Point in Each New England State - New England Historical Society January 12, 2019 - 7:54 am

[…] first car to climb Mount Washington was a Stanley Steamer on Aug. 31, 1899. Co-inventor Freelan O. Stanley and his wife Flora drove to the peak in one of the earliest publicity stunts in the automotive […]

The First Shopping Mall in Each New England State - New England Historical Society August 21, 2019 - 11:35 am

[…] he had bigger ideas. He saw how rapidly the automobile was changing the culture. And shopping, he believed, was bound to change. With cars that needed […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!