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Byron J Carter

Byron Carter

1863-1895 - Birth and Early Life

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. Jackson.

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 Carter:
"FOR SALE:  Hydro-Carbon Motor, light weight for motor vehicle.  Also Baldwin chain, milled sprockets, friction clutches, etc. B. J. Carter, Jackson, Michigan"

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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