Byron J. Carter was born in Michigan on August 17, 1863 to his parents
Squire B and Martha (Crum) Carter. Both his father and his wife
were born in New York. Squire Carter was born in NY on January 1, 1837
to Peter J and Sarah (Snyder) Carter and Della, his second wife, was born in
October 1875. At the time of the 1880 Census, Byron was 16 years old,
living at home with his parents in "Sandstone," Jackson County MI. His
father (now age 43) was listed as being a farmer and his mother was "keeping
house." James "Krum," a 20-year-old farm laborer (presumably Martha
Crum Carter's brother) was also living there.
By 1887, Byron Carter was no longer living with his parents and both he and
his parents had moved from a farm in Spring Arbor Township to the city of
Jackson MI. During this period both Byron Carter and his family were
involved in multiple and various business enterprises in Jackson. In
the 1887 Jackson City Directory Byron Carter was listed as being a "Steam
Job Printer and Rubber Stamp Manufacturer" at 167 Main St and living at 169
Main St while his father's business was "Grocer, Provisions, Flour and Feed"
at 217 Francis St and he was living at 338 W. Washington. About this
same time Byron Carter became an "enthusiastic bicyclist" and a charter
member of the Jackson Bicycle Club. Apparently Byron Carter was
involved with his father's business as well because the Jackson City
Directories of 1887-1890 list him being at "Carter & Co" at 338 W.
Washington. In 1890, Byron Carter was living at 338 W. Washington with
his father and running "Jackson Rubber Stamp and Printing Co" while his
father was a pawnbroker and selling new and second-hand furniture at 120 S.
Sometime around 1887 or later Byron Carter began "experiments" with
automobiles. There are many different dates given for this in his
obituary and in other records. The dates in most of these later
accounts should be looked at with some skepticism due to the length of time
since the events occurred but also due to the various lawsuits that occurred
between companies building friction drive cars and the resulting motivation
to document certain automotive activities earlier than other companies
had. Some accounts have Byron Carter beginning automotive experiments
in 1887; another says that he was inspired to build a car of his own after
seeing a horseless carriage in a circus parade in Cleveland around
1895. Byron Carter certainly had some of the building blocks for
an interest in automobiles given his bicycle interests and experience with
steam power which all happened by at least 1887.
Byron Carter's first wife, Evaline C. Carter, gave birth to his first child,
George R Carter, on February 29, 1888. Evaline filed for divorce in April
of 1890. On July 2, 1896, Byron Carter married his second wife,
Della A Carter (Dorothy Adell Gillette, age 20) in a "quiet wedding" with
only immediate relatives at the home of Mr and Mrs Frank Muns (Della's sister
and brother-in-law). The 8pm wedding was performed by Rev. W. T. Woodhouse,
pastor of the E. Main St Baptist Church and later the couple left
"on the New York express for an extended bridal journey."
1896-1901 - Early Automobile Experiments and Other Businesses
While the extent of his automobile "experiments" before 1896 are
questionable, there is some good evidence that Byron Carter was working on
his own automobile by 1896. The year 1896 was a significant year
in automobile history because it was the year when Charles B. King
demonstrated the first automobile in Detroit, on March 6th. Although
the accounts were recorded much later, Charles King and his assistant and
engineer Oliver Barthel both wrote that Byron Carter bought the car chassis
King had built for his historic first run on 3/6/1896 but ended up not using
because he couldn't get tires in time and had instead removed the engine
from this chassis and installed it in another vehicle for the first run on
the streets of Detroit. Barthel said that the car sold to Byron Carter
had a 2 cylinder opposed engine installed and a friction belt
transmission. Barthel also stated that he designed a motor for Byron
Carter who then built the motor at the Jackson Prison where Barthel said
that Carter was the mechanic in charge. A later record published
in 1916 says that in 1896 B. J. Carter, bicycle repair shop proprietor,
drove a "horseless carriage" in front of his shop. He had bought "some
sort of an engine," attached it to a common carriage and built the first
automobile built in Jackson.
On October 30, 1897, Byron Carter's daughter Rachel was born and they were
living a 214 W. Washington in Jackson. Additional business enterprises
were underway including "Carter Manufacturing Company" with his uncle
Charles, manufacturing strawberry tools at the 204 W. Cortland
address. B. J. Carter was also listed as the manager for the U. S. Tag
company which was also at 204 W. Cortland. In 1898 his father Squire
was running the U. S. Tag Co, a House Furnishing Goods business and bicycles
listed at both the 122 S. Jackson and 204 W. Cortland addresses. In
1899, the local directory had B. J. Carter now as the proprietor of the U.S.
Tag Co. and also selling Bicycles and "Photographs" [ed. Phonographs?] at
204-206 W. Cortland and his father running a second hand goods operation at
112 S. Jackson.
Upon this backdrop of various businesses, by 1899 the Horseless Age
recorded that Byron Carter "has built a gasoline carriage for
himself." The Horseless Age was a pioneer publication for
the fledgling automotive industry and Byron Carter was present in the
earliest of issues. The November 8, 1899 issue had an ad from Byron
"FOR SALE: Hydro-Carbon Motor, light weight for motor vehicle.
Also Baldwin chain, milled sprockets, friction clutches, etc. B. J. Carter,
In 1900, Byron Carter was still living at 214 Washington (rented) and
running the U. S. Tag Co. and bicycle and phonograph businesses at 204-206
W. Cortland but his father was now listed as a farmer. In March Byron Carter
advertised a "3-cylinder, air-cooled motor for sale. Of light weight,
giving ample power and simple in construction, also Transmission Gear and
Compensating Gear, all attached and ready to receive the rear axles, giving
two speed ahead and backward. B. J. Carter Jackson, Michigan."
Presumably the 3-cylinder motor was a steam engine. Around the
end of the year, a couple of period publications also recorded that
the "Michigan Automobile Company" of Grand Rapids, MI was recently
incorporated and chartered for $50,000 by W. S. Daniels of Grand Rapids and
B. J. Carter of Jackson. It is believed that these cars were
steam-powered. An obituary of Maurice Blood written in 1917 said that
Maurice Blood left the bicycle business in 1900 to become manager of the
Michigan Automobile Company which built 150 narrow-tread cars in 1900 and
1901. before organizing the Blood Bros. Machine Company in Kalamazoo in 1902
and inventing the universal joint in 1903. Note that there was also
another Michigan Automobile Co. in Kalamazoo that had a longer lifespan.
In 1901, Byron Carter's daughter Barbara was born and he was continuing the
businesses at 204 W. Cortland. The business had at least 6 employees
including two clerks, two machinists a repairer and a stenographer. In
Studebaker and the Railroads, Jan Young writes that "Studebaker
entered negotiations for the purchase of a steam car design created by Byron
J. Carter of Jackson, MI. Carter's test car wasn't ready and
Studebaker had other irons in the fire, so the deal fell through, as had
several earlier ones." A couple of Byron Carter's obituaries written
after his death in 1908 says that the Jackson Automobile Company was later
organized after Byron Carter had run two machines at the 1901 Pan American
Exposition in Buffalo and that later Byron Carter, as the general manager,
also designed a single cylinder runabout which was "very popular."
1902 - More Steam Automobiles, Patents and the Founding of Jackson Automobile Company
Steam power factored heavily in Byron Carter activities. In early
1902, he filed for a Steam engine patent (granted as 722,206 on 3/10/03) and
also advertised The Carter Automatic Cylinder Lubricator and Steam
Motor. The lubricator "requires no attention or regulating" and
"supplies a uniform amount of oil at all times. Easily attached.
Price: Quart Size: $10.00." The steam motor was "the simplest and best
inclosed AUTO STEAM MOTOR on the market. No stuffing boxes or packing
$100.00." Sadly his daughter Barbara, born just the year before,
dies. The business listings for 1902 now has Byron Carter as a
"Manufacturer of Automobiles and Supplies and Dealer in Bicycles" and under
"Machinists." An interesting article in May 8th issue of The
Motor World reported that "Negotiations are in progress looking to
the formation of company to take over the business of B. J. Carter, of
Jackson, Mich., manufacturer of steam automobiles. The plan is to remove the
plant to Grand Rapids, where the old factory of the Clipper Bicycle Co. will
be made use of... The name suggested for the company is the Clipper Auto Car
Company. It is proposed to manufacture automobile parts, as well as the the
complete machines, the plant at Jackson already having an established
business in both of these lines. J. Elmer Pratt will act as superintendent
of the plant if the project goes through.”[ed: note that the plant is not
already in Grand Rapids]. This seems to somewhat conflict with other
accounts of both the Michigan Automobile Company and the Jackson Automobile
Company. The May 10th issue of Automobile Topics evidently
thought this wasn't such a great idea: "J. Elmer Pratt of Grand Rapids,
Mich., who was once considered one of the most level-headed men in the
bicycle industry, is connected with the organization of a company for
manufacturing steam vehicles in Grand Marais, Mich., under patents owned by
B. J. Carter of Jackson, in the same state. "
Perhaps the most notable business item for 1902 was the formation of the
Jackson Automobile Company which was incorporated on July 19, 1902 for 30
years "to manufacture, buy and sell mobiles and automobiles of every kind of
propelling power and vehicles of all kinds, also to manufacture, sell and
buy any and all parts of mobiles, automobiles and vehicles." There
were 2,400 shares at a $10.00 par value for a total capitalization of
$24,000. George A. Matthews, Chas. Lewis and Byron J. Carter all
held 800 shares apiece. Chas. Lewis of the Lewis Spring & Axle Co.
was president, George Matthews, of the Fuller Buggy Company, was
secretary-treasurer and B. J. Carter was manager. An August article
reported that "A building suitable for the purpose will be secured at once
and preparations have been made to manufacture automobiles designed and
heretofore built by B. J. Carter."
To be continued....
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