Tracing the Career of Frank M. Underwood Part 4

The Sandusky Automobile Co. — part four of an ongoing series.

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Figure 1: The factory built by the Sandusky Automobile Co. in 1903, photograph circa 1996.

The latest in the F.M. Underwood series, this installment focuses on his engine design influence in relation to the Sandusky Automobile Co.

On March 12, 1900, the Sandusky Star reported, “The Sandusky Automobile and Gas Engine Co. has set up all of the machinery recently purchased in Bucyrus, has fitted up its plant in first-class style and has commenced operations. It is expected that the first automobile will be turned out in about a week.”

One account states that the first car ever to run on the streets of Sandusky, Ohio, was built by the Underwood Motor Co. It was bought by George J. Schade and given its test run on July 8, 1900, a few months after Kimes & Clark indicates that Underwood had left the Sandusky Automobile Co.

However, there are conflicting reports about this automobile. The Sandusky Register of September 7, 1900, reports that Mr. Schade referred to his auto as his “steammob.” Then the Sandusky Register of May 3, 1901, actually refers to it as having a gasoline engine, then in the same paragraph, talks about its power going up a hill without reducing steam pressure. I later found the truth behind the confusion, in a memoir recorded in the Sandusky Register of November 21, 1920, “Schade had been intending to have a gasoline engine in his car, but the man who was to have installed it, Underwood, by name, delayed so long that the former listened to the arguments of Caswell in favor of the steamer.”

The 1900-01 the Sandusky City Directory lists Underwood Motor Co. at the same address and with the same capital stock and officers as shown in the 1898-99 directory.

From the residential section, we learn that Underwood and his wife, Lucy, have moved to 321 Franklin St. He is now listed as a “machine manufacturer” at 436 Market St. (a different address from the Underwood Motor Co.). His connection with the Underwood Motor Co. seems to have ended. The Ohio Motor Co. is listed at 232 Columbus Ave., home of the former Underwood Motor Co. Exactly when the Underwood Motor Co. of Sandusky changed its name to the Ohio Motor Co. remains a mystery that the archivists at the office of the Ohio Secretary of State have not been able to unravel.

Also listed in the 1900-01 Sandusky City Directory is Charles W. Underwood. His occupation is shown as “machinist.” This is the only other person by the name of Underwood shown in the 1900-01 directory and Charles Underwood does not appear either prior to or after this directory. Perhaps Charles W. Underwood was a relative to F.M. Underwood?

Neither the 1902-03 Sandusky City Directory nor any later irectory makes mention of the Underwood Motor Co. The directory now lists The Ohio Motor Co. at 232 Columbus Ave., incorporated May 24, 1897. The Ohio Motor Co. is also listed at the northeast corner of Perry and Water streets. This location should probably be the southwest corner, where they had a wooden frame building in later years. Capital stock is now up to $25,000.

Frank Underwood evidently left the Sandusky, Ohio, ventures sometime between the spring and fall of 1900.

The Sandusky Automobile Co., which marketed its car as the “Courier,” continued but the business unit went through significant reorganization. The April 29, 1902, Sandusky Register reported that the Sandusky Automobile & Mfg. Co. had received fresh papers of incorporation in the amount of $100,000. One of the chief investors was James J. Hinde, business partner of J.J. Dauch, who went on to found the Sandusky Auto Parts & Truck Co., as well as the Dauch Mfg. Co., which manufactured the Sandusky tractor.

The 1904-1905 Sandusky City Directory indicates that the Sandusky Automobile Co. was incorporated in 1902, as was the Sandusky Foundry & Machine Co. Sandusky/Courier cars continued to be advertised nationally through 1904 and into 1905.

In a Bulb Horn magazine article titled “The Courier,” it is reported that the Sandusky/Courier car initially used Underwood engines, but also used Atlas engines. The Bulb Horn article also mentions that according to the Sandusky Register of November 25, 1947, the Underwood Gas Engine Co. was owned by Myron Caswell. Additionally, Myron Caswell’s obituary in the August 1, 1949, Sandusky Register reports, “In 1898 he was credited with turning out the first steam automobile in Sandusky … In 1899 … he developed the first cylinder runabout automobile here. Following this era of manufacturing, Mr. Caswell then organized the Sandusky Automobile Co. and built a new plant on the present site of Brown Industries, Inc., on Camp Street.”

Myron Caswell was possibly involved with the Underwood Gas Engine Co. but was certainly involved with the Sandusky Automobile Co. Indeed, the April 25, 1902, Sandusky Register lists M.J. Caswell as one of the first 10 stock subscribers for the re-organized Sandusky Automobile Co., and the May 16, 1902, Sandusky Star notes that M.J. Caswell was elected director. Period directories don’t list him as an owner, organizer, incorporator, or manager of either company. However, in the Sandusky Register of June 4, 1903, M.J. Caswell denies resigning from his position of superintendent of the Sandusky Automobile Co. to organize a new
automobile company.

The new Sandusky Automobile factory entered service about June 1903 (see Figure 1). The building has since been demolished.

On August 5, 1904, a tire manufacturer filed a suit demanding that the Sandusky Automobile Co. be declared bankrupt. By September 1, 1905, the Sandusky Automobile plant was sold to the Dunbar Mfg. Co. The Dunbar firm had no plans to continue engine or automobile manufacture.

In Gas Power of June 1907, we find the advertisement (see Figure 2) in which the Sandusky Foundry & Machine Co. lists 75 stationary engines for sale in a single lot. Except for being skid-mounted, the engine in the advertisement appears identical to those built for the Sandusky (Courier) automobile.

The record is confusing, but it seems clear that the Sandusky Automobile Co. began building cars with Underwood-designed engines about 1900. Bulb Horn indicates that Atlas engines were also used, but I have not been able to substantiate that claim with period literature. I know of two Sandusky automobiles plus another partial vehicle; they all use the same essential engine as shown in Figure 2. A 1904 Sandusky automobile sales brochure illustrates the same engine. One vehicle is credited with being of 1902 vintage, the others are thought to be in the 1904-1905 range. The owner of the 1904-1905 vehicles believes that they have Atlas engines.

It seems clear that the Sandusky Automobile Co. began building cars with Underwood-designed engines about 1900.

So far, I have not been able to determine with certainty who designed or built the engines found in all 2-1/2 remaining Sandusky/Courier cars, which were later marketed by the Sandusky Foundry & Machine Co. They certainly could have been designed by Underwood, and after Underwood left Sandusky, their manufacture continued either at the Sandusky Automobile Co. shops, the Sandusky Foundry & Machine Co., or even at the Ohio Motor Co. This view has some support from the June 7, 1903, Sandusky Register that reported, “They [the Sandusky Automobile Co.] have now purchased supplies for 100 cars and are fast filling up their plant with skilled workmen. The engines, bodies, and wheels that were formerly purchased elsewhere are now being made in Sandusky.”

If the article in the Bulb Horn is correct, and the Sandusky Automobile Co. did buy Atlas engines for use in their vehicles, it is difficult to reconcile the time period when the Atlas engines would have been used, and also to determine if the remaining vehicles have Underwooddesigned or Atlas engines.

Who designed and/or built the Atlas engines remains a mystery, but Atlas Engine Works of Indianapolis, Indiana, was a likely source. Atlas Engine Works was a large and long-time supplier of stationary steam engines. It is known that Atlas built larger flywheel-style gas engines up until about 1910 when that division was sold. In 1912, Atlas sold its automobile engine division, which included a multiple-cylinder sleeve-valve design. So far, I have not uncovered any evidence that Atlas built small single-cylinder engines for early automotive use, but it certainly is a possibility.

The engine in Figure 3 shows some possible Underwood design heritage in its single flywheel, heavy engine build, and its side shaft. While a beautifully restored and nice-running engine, one should not necessarily consider the fuel tank, cooling tank, water pump, or fuel mixer original to the engine design.

Check out future issues of Gas Engine Magazine as this series continues with more on the career of F.M. Underwood, and check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Sources: Sandusky Area Sesquicentennial, 1818-1964; Sandusky City Directory, 1898-1899, 1900-1901, 1902-1903, 1904-1905; Standard Catalog of American Automobiles, Kimes & Clark, 1805- 1942; Sandusky Register, September 7, 1900, May 3, 1901, February 2, 1903, April 25, 1902, April 29, 1902, May 13, 1903, June 4, 1903, June 7, 1903, August 5, 1904, November 21, 1920, June 14, 1968, November 25, 1978; Sandusky Star, February 17, 1900, March 12, 1900, May 16, 1902, May 28, 1902, October 1, 1903, September 1, 1905; The Bulb Horn, April-June 1990; Gas Power Magazine, June 1907.

Will Cummings is a regular contributor to Gas Engine Magazine and can be reached at

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