Covering the Land of Lincoln

Historic automobile manufacturer: St. Louis Motor Carriage Company founders, John L. French and George P. Dorris, Sr. | CJ Coombs

1901 St Louis at National Museum of Transportation.Photo byJames H. White, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The St. Louis Motor Carriage Company was founded in 1898 by George Preston Dorris, Sr., vice-president and senior engineer, and president, John L. French. This company manufactured automobiles at 1211-13 North Vandeventer Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri. From 1899 to 1907, it was the first of many companies in St. Louis making automobiles. The horseless carriage, the St. Louis, was developed at this company and the vehicles had the advertisement slogan of Rigs that Run.

Noteworthy, Dorris, Sr. and French were boyhood friends.

[They] realized the broad commercial potential of the automobile and founded the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company, the first car-manufacturing company in St. Louis. (Source.)

George Preston Dorris, Sr.

Dorris, Sr. was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. He attended Vanderbilt University. Dorris, a pioneer automobile manufacturer, was later credited with developing the float-feed carburetor. He experimented with building his first homemade car in Nashville in 1897.

Between 1903 and 1926, the Dorris Motor Car Company manufactured around 50 cars. Later, he established the Dorris Co. in 1946 that manufactured gearboxes and speed reducers. This company was founded along with his sons, George P. Dorris, Jr., and Dunkan K. Dorris.

Mr Dorris [Jr.] held a patent for the design of the shaft-mounted gearbox which is now commonly used throughout the industry. (Source.)

Dorris, Sr. died on November 2, 1968, at age 94. Dorris, Jr. died on December 9, 1999, at age 93.

John L French

French, also from Nashville, handled marketing and Dorris headed engineering and production for the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company. Before this, French had moved to St. Louis to work for his father. Jesse French, Sr., financed most of the project to form the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company. The company was operated by both Dorris, Sr., and John French. Louis Motor Carriage Company factory at 1211-13 North Vandeventer Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri.Photo byUnknown author, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.John French died in 1903, from injuries sustained nine months earlier when his St. Louis was involved in a streetcar accident in Pittsburgh. The French family relocated St. Louis Motor Carriage to Peoria, Illinois, in 1905, but Dorris didn’t go. (Source.)

French died on May 23, 1903, at age 30. He had just married the year before. While on a business trip, he went for a trial drive in a new car and it collided with another one. French was thrown from the vehicle and suffered head injuries.

This would be when Dorris established the Dorris Motor Car Company. Louis Motor Carriage Company car in 1904.Photo byPublic domain media, Picryl.

The St Louis Motor Carriage Company

The first automobiles had single and twin-cylinder engines. They also had a steering lever for steering until the steering wheel was introduced.

By 1904, there were two models with single-cylinder engines called the Runabout and tonneau. A 24hp three-cylinder engine was introduced with a tonneau body. Originally, the tonneau was an open rear passenger compartment. In 1905, there were more options and all had a side-entrance tonneau body:

  • 12hp with a single cylinder engine
  • 16hp with a two-cylinder engine
  • 20/24hp with a three-cylinder engine.

In 1905, the company relocated to Peoria, Illinois, and was renamed, the St. Louis Motor Car Company. Resting on 10 acres, a brand new three-story factory was constructed.

Dorris, Sr.’s new company was started in the old St. Louis Motor Carriage plan in 1906. His motor cars were produced through 1906. Dorris and his wife in a 1901 St. Louis runabout.Photo byUnknown author, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The St. Louis Motor Carriage Company went out of business shortly after moving to Peoria.

1907 Dorris Motor Car Company Building

The building pictured below used to house the Dorris Motor Car Company. On February 10, 2000, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1907 to be used as an automobile factory. The third story was added in 1909. The building functioned as the company’s manufacturing plan until 1926. It was influential in getting St. Louis on the map as a center for automotive assembly and parts manufacturing.

In 1926, the Dorris Motor Car Company went out of business, but the building has been continually repurposed. in 2004, the building was formerly the 1907 Dorris Motor Car Company Building.Photo byLittleT889, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.‘It’s got a cop engine, a 440 cubic inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. So, is it the new Bluesmobile, or what?’ — Dan Ayckroyd as the character ‘Elwood Blues,’ describing a newly purchased police surplus car to his bother Jake in the classic movie ‘The Blues Brothers.’ (Source.)

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