HH Buffum Shoe Machinery (and Automobiles!!!) of Abington, 123 Centre Avenue and Surrounding Areas
HH Buffum Shoe Machinery (and Automobiles!!!) of Abington, 123 Centre Avenue and Surrounding Areas
Herbert. H Buffum, inventor of:
•Automation of shoe machinery (such as the shoe eyelet delivering mechanism)
•Add-on bicycle motors
•AUTOMOBILES, including the FIRST 4 cylinder engine and the FIRST production V8 engine, a world speed record, the first left hand drive vehicle, and a rare “cycle-car”, a staggered seat, V-twin machine dubbed the “Laconia Cyclecar”. H.H. Buffum motors were also used to power motorboats, a hobby and passion of Buffum.
Hurbert H. Buffum produced about 70+ vehicles over a 13+ year period (18-20 years if one includes his short run in Laconia New Hampshire later). He is credited as producing the first American four-cylinder car, production or otherwise, the first cataloged production American race car and the world's first production V8 automobile. His first automotive design began approximately in 1894 and completed the following year in Massachusetts.
Buffum continued to produce automobiles here until approximately ca. 1908-1910, with a few years of production in New Hampshire afterwards. Herbert H. Buffum’s dedication to engineering excellence was uncompromising and is considered in some circles to be a genius in regards to his motor work and development of automation machinery. Over he years, Buffum secured numerous patents for his machinery, including a successful sprinkler head design, as ell as sewing and nailing machines, and perhaps his most interesting legacy, some very advanced automobile designs. Please read below for more information regarding his interesting story…
The in-depth version:
Herbert H. Buffum, born in Hanover Mass and later became a business owner in Abington. He was a designer and producer of various machinery, from his work with steam engines, gas engines, sprinkler systems, sewing equipment, and his bread and butter- industrial machinery for the automation of shoe production and sprinkler systems. Buffum sold his sprinkler company, the C.S. & B. Sprinkler Co., and towards the end of the 19th century, Buffum started his shoe machinery factory in Abington. At the time (1890s), New England was a Mecca for industrial innovation and the and towns like Brockton, Rockland and Abington were major players in the shoe manufacturing industry. While his business was rooted in the booming shoe industry of New England, his primary interest and passion lay, however, in engine design. H. H. Buffum Co. was soon manufacturing motor cars and boat motors.
From various culled records unearthed through research, Buffum seemed to have initially dabbled on steam engines in his 20s before moving on to his shoe manufacturing business, and then his true passion, gas powered motors. Buffum designed an in-line four-cylinder engine based on a cast iron crank case with individual cylinders and a “make and break” ignition system and mixing valve intake. Cooling was achieved via liquid- a vented water tank, similar to a primitive radiator.
Local carriage maker George Pierce was commissioned to fabricate a chassis for Buffum's design- it had to be citing edge, elegant and quality. The carriage featured a tubular frame and placed the liquid cooled motor motor under the seat- which allowed a roomy cabin. Performance was achieved with a two-speed planetary transmission. The body of the car was a Stanhope body, which was likely commissioned and supplied by Pierce. Other features were a tiller steering mechanism and a chain drive to the rear axle, and a leather knob (likely derived from Buffum’s shoe manufacturing patents) controlled the throttle action.
The car, referred to simply as the “Buffum” under the The H. H. Buffum & Company, was not widely displayed because Buffum feared his innovations would be stolen by competitors before his patents were granted, but on the rare local showings, there was great interest (and several requests) for him to build cars for local residents. Prior to 1900,six cars were hand-built by Buffum in his spare time (remember- his primary bread and butter was earned with his shoe machinery business). Each car was built with new features as Buffum’s designs were always evolving. In 1900, Buffum set up his ability to increase and automate his automobile production, and manufactured an additional collection of cars mainly for local residents. In 1901, he introduced a new model- a front engine, an opposed four cylinder motor with a center mounted flywheel and chain drive. The vehicle was unique here as it was modeled more after European/French designs than the developing styles the states were building at the time. From 1900 to 1907, these cars were built in Abington, MA. One such car is noted to be the first ever left-hand driver-sided vehicle built in America. At the time, vehicles positioned drivers on the right-hand side. The vehicle was an 1895 model, commissioned by a physician who was hard of hearing in his left ear, and wanted to be able to converse with his passenger- thus placing the passenger in the right hand side of the automobile. Some notes claim the engine castings were done in Laconia via the Laconia Malleable Foundry, but I cannot confirm. It makes sense, as Buffum was fond of Laconia and held residency in Lake City. A side note- this particular car was discovered unrestored many decades later in the cellar of a barn in Wellesly Hills, Massachusetts.
In 1903, he built a 100 horsepower eight-cylinder racing car, named the the ‘Model G Greyhound’, also we assume called the ‘Central Greyhound’- the largest and most powerful race car built up to that time. The vehicle featured a flat-eight cylinder motor, and with 100hp on tap, it was built to compete against Winton at the Gordon Bennett Cup in Ireland but unfortunately never made it to the event. Nonetheless, the car made it into production as the “Greyhound”, and as an official production model for sale, the “Greyhound” is recorded as America's first cataloged production racing car, as well as the first production eight-cylinder American car made. Production models were a bit more civil than the full-race version, and was de-tuned to produce a still-respectable 80hp vs 100hp. One of Buffum’s cars at some point in history actually made it to Daytona Beach, Florida, where it established a world speed record. My research has not turned up which car this was, however the “Greyhound” may be the record holding vehicle.
In 1906 another eight-cylinder powered car was offered for sale- but this time the engine was of a V-8 configuration.
Around 1908-1910, Buffum left Massachusetts area for New Hampshire to pursue interest in motor boats and motorboat engines, producing ambitious engine projects for marine use and airplanes, most notably a twelve-cylinder, opposed marine engine and a lightweight V12 aircraft engine.However, in 1914, he returned to his automotive roots briefly, and made what he called the “Laconia cycle car”, his final contribution to the automobile industry. An interesting design featuring a simplified V-twin engine and a staggered seating arrangement, it was the only vehicle of its type in New Hampshire. It’s light weight and simplistic design is rumored to have provided a very spirited and exhilarating riding experience. The “Laconia” was advertised as New Hampshire's first Cyclecar, sporting somewhere between 7 and 10 HP from it’s 2 cylinder 67,3 c.i., air cooled V-Twin engine mounted to a friction transmission., and sold for $450.00. The seating was staggered for two passenger capacity and featured an aluminum body for light weight and nimbleness.
One last vehicle was attributed to Buffum in 1915- a touring car, built for a William Harrington, of Rocky Point/Narragansett Bay side of Warwick, Rhode Island. Information is practically non-existent on this last vehicle.
Buffum later moved to the West Coast where he lived until his passing in 1933.
The Stanhope bodied car featured in the photos provided on this page is the original Buffum car manufactured, and was never sold during Buffum's lifetime. The car became property of Buffum's ex-wife, Mrs. Dudley, who sold the car in 1934 to a Mr. Harry Bell. The car was later put on display first at the Princeton Auto Museum in Princeton, MA., for an unspecified period, before being sold to the Zimmerman Museum where it remained into the 60’s. The car changed hands again sometime in the 1960s numerous times before purchase by John Swann of Highland, Maryland. Swann returned the car to operational condition, and the car was featured, driven, in several parades, and as an interesting footnote, it became the first automobile to cross the Parallel Chesapeake Bay Bridge on its grand opening in 1973.
Since then, the car has been used sparingly, and rarely seen, although it was put on display at the Owl's Head transportation Museum in Owl's Head, ME. In 2012, the car was offered for sale through the Bonhams Auction. Estimated to sell for $250,000 to $350,000, the vehicle was unable to find a buyer willing to meet the reserve.
The car remains mostly original, with modifications or parts exchanges kept to a minimum. The only major modification, which may or may not have been performed, is it perhaps received a repaint at some point. Most of the leather upholstery and dash is original. It’s unique exhaust, mufflers, carburetor and brake equipment remains factory original. This H.H. Buffum automobile is one of the oldest, functional American cars in existence.
Another picture features the Laconia, New Hampshire built staggered seat, V-twin “Laconia Cyclecar”. Minimal information can be found on this vehicle other than what was provided above.
Other vehicles featured are additional models of Buffum’s automotive works, but again, information is extremely scarce.
Special thanks to Daniel Vaughan for much of the sourced information above. Information about Hubert H. Buffum is at a minimal and his information provided, of which we’ve blended with other research, records ands documents make up the bulk of the text above.