The Late, Great Franklin Automobile

Today’s Utica Observer-Dispatch had a story today about 32 Franklin car owners had a show yesterday at the Rome City Hall. Great pictures and great owner stories.

About all I knew was that the Franklin Automobile Company made cars from 1902 to 1934. Seen a few now and then and they looked cool. They were made in Syracuse and died because of the Depression.

Herbert H. Franklin had founded the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company in 1893. In 1901, he started working with an engineer and cyclist, John Wilkinson, to manufacture an air-cooled engine. Franklin named the car after himself because he put the $$$ into it. Wilkinson was chief engineer. The first car was produced in 1902 and sold in Ogdensburg. Franklin was always a luxury car. The company sold about 150,000 cars over the course of more than 30 years in existence.


First Franklin car in the Smithsonian
First Franklin car in the Smithsonian


Air cooling became made Franklin famous, especially after Lindbergh used it. All Franklin cars used air-cooled engines, all had overhead valves, and most used flexible wooden chassis frames and aluminum bodies. Air cooling did away with the radiators, hoses, water pumps, and headaches of a “normal” engine’s boiling and freezing. Franklin’s wooden frames, along with full-elliptic leaf springs, gave a “baby buggy” ride over the unpaved roads of the day: supple and floaty. Aluminum bodies were part of John Wilkinson’s obsessive quest for “scientific light weight.”


In addition to the Franklin Automobile Company, there were several other motorized vehicle manufacturers in the Syracuse area during the early 1900s. These included, Brennan Motor Manufacturing Company, Century Motor Vehicle Company manufacturers of a steam powered model, H. A. Moyer Automobile Company who were originally carriage builders and later moved to manufacturers of “high-grade pleasure cars,” Chase Motor Truck Company who were pioneers in the two-cycle, air-cooled commercial vehicle field, Palmer-Moore Company and the Sanford-Herbert Motor Truck Company who manufactured two lines of commercial vehicles. Along with Franklin, the biggest contribution were all the car parts like gears that were made there. See a great story on Syracuse Then and Now.