The Winton Motor Carriage Co. is organized in Cleveland on March 1, 1897, with capitalization of $200,000, backed by Alexander Winton, a marine engineer from Scotland, along with George Brown and Thomas Henderson.
The company went into business on March 15, 1897, and the first automobiles were built by hand, featuring painted sides, padded seats, a leather roof and gas lamps. The tires were supplied by B.F. Goodrich.
In May 1897, the company’s 10-hp model reached an astonishing speed of 33.64 mph on a test around a Cleveland horse track. However, the public was still skeptical of the new invention.
To prove the automobile’s durability and usefulness, Winton had the car undergo an 800-mile endurance drive from Cleveland to New York City.
On March 24, 1898, Robert Allison of Port Carbon, Penn., became one of the first to buy an American-built automobile when he purchased a Winton for around $1,000. Allison had seen an advertisement for the car in Scientific American.
The car had two forward speeds and one reverse, controlled by two levers to the driver's right and by a small knob. It was steered by a tiller.
That year, the Winton Motor Carriage Co. sold 21 more vehicles. One of the customers was James Ward Packard, who would later form the Packard Motor Car Co.
Packard reportedly was not satisfied with his car and complained to Winton, who challenged Packard to do better. The same year, Leo Melanowski, Winton’s chief engineer, invited Henry Ford to Cleveland for an interview with the Winton Co. Alexander Winton was not impressed with Henry and decided not to hire him.
Ford returned to Detroit to continue working on his second Quadricycle.
By 1898, more than Winton vehicles were sold annually, making the company the largest manufacturer of gas-powered automobiles in the United States, and giving Cleveland rights as the nation’s auto hub.
Members of the wealthy Vanderbilt family soon purchased Winton automobiles, further boosting the company.