Jan 22 2011

Article “The ALCO Story: Distinctive, Durable, Doomed”

In the early 1970s, author Howard L. Applegate wrote a history of the Alco in the tabloid newspaper Old Cars. Here is a pdf of the article The ALCO Story: Distinctive, Durable and Doomed.

Highlights and related images from the article follow:

American Locomotive Company Enters the Auto Industry

Their decision to enter auto manufacturing was part of a national pattern of business retooling at the time, similar to the transition at Pierce from bicycles to autos or Studebaker from carriages and wagons to autos.

...rather than start their automotive operations from gound zero, Alco entered into a three-year agreement with the French automotive firm of Berliet. Alco's management admired the advanced engineering of continental autos, but had reservations about European endurance and lasting power on rough American roads. They concluded that it was not feasible to consider any car except one built to shrug off the rugged mountain routes of the Rhone Valley in France.

A New Factory in Providence


Caption: "The Alco plant in Providence, Rhode Island. This building, now houses a division of UniRoyal, was one of the first factories specifically designed for automaking."

The automotive subsidiary, called the American Locomotive Automobile Company, was capitalized at $300,000 and was to devote itself specifically to the manufacture and marketing of motorcars. A new plant was built at Providence, Rhode Island, adjacent to American Locomotive's subsidiary, Rhode Island Locomotive Works, and was one of the first American industrial buildings especially planned for automaking.

The 1909 Alco Models


Caption: "Gleaming new Alco Tourabout was placed in front of Alco's New York salesroom. Finish is as good or better than national first prize winning car of today. Note accessory front bumper."

Upon introduction of the 1909 models, the car's name was officially changed to Alco...One new model was introduced in 1909- the Tourabout- a sporty affair with a sharply raked steering post and a low-slung frame and seat.


Caption: "Handsome 1909 model 40 tourer served as official car for Good Roads tour sponsored by New York Herald and Atlanta Journal."


Update 1/24/2011: Walter McCarthy: " I thought it strange that one of the ALCO touring cars pictured had a NJ Manufacturer's license plate in that it was a Rhode Island company. I sent you a photo of a NJ manufacturer's plate in my collection. Actually an interesting color!"


Caption: "Alco 1909 Six-60 seven passenger touring. Fast, flexible, and very powerful. Made from the finest metals available."

The Alco Racing History


Caption: "Harry Grant's Vanderbilt-winning Alco. Car was a double winner, capturing the cup in both 1909 and 1910."

1909 and 1910 were Alco's glory years in racing as they scored impressive victories at America's premier contest in those days- the Vanderbilt Cup races. Harry Grant, the Alco dealer from Boston, was a virtual unknown in racing circles but he chauffered his mounts to the winner's circle with coolness and precision in both the 1909 and 1910 contests.

Alco Closes Down Its Auto Division in 1913


Caption: One of the last of the Alcos with the famous white stripe around the body. Passenger appears to be making a fast exit."

For 1913, Alco converted to electric lighting and added a searchlight, a courtesy lamp concealed beneath the curbside door, disappearing windows, and that most prominent of all Alco trademarks- the distinctive white band around the upper body and cowling of each car. The band, a company spokesman said, was "the motor car insignia for beauty, culture, good taste, speed, and power. It stands for long life." The catalogue put it another way. It was the "symbol of superiority and badge of distinction."

If the white band was Alco's silent statement of automotive superiority, it was the last such statement the company would make. In 1913 Alco ceased production.

The story of Alco is one of a company which attempted and succeeded in building a reliable, durable, top-quality car for the prestige motoring market. The fact that they eventually failed does not diminish the product itself, nor the uncompromising men who built it.

Links to related posts on VanderbiltCupRaces.com:

Archives: Alco-6 Black Beast Racer


Jan 23 2011 Walter McCarthy 2:10 PM

Hi Howard,  I thought it strange that one of the ALCO touring cars pictured had a NJ Manufacturer’s license plate in that it was a Rhode Island company. I sent you a photo of a NJ manufacturer’s plate in my collection.  Actually an interesting color! Walter

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