White Motor Company
Fate Acquired
Successor Volvo AV
Founded 1900
Founder(s) Thomas White
Defunct 1980
Headquarters Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Industry Automotive
Products Vehicles
Automotive parts

White Motor Company was an American automobile and truck manufacturer, in existence from 1900 to 1981. The company also produced bicycles, roller skates, automatic lathes, Steam cars, tractors and sewing machines. Before World War II, the company was based in Cleveland, Ohio.



Advertisement for the White Sewing Machine Company's 1905 model

About 1898 Thomas White purchased a Locomobile steamer (Car) and he found that the only thing reliable about its boiler was its unreliability. So his son Rollin set out to improve on its design. He developed a form of water tube steam generator which consisted of a series of stacked coils which had two novel features; the first, and most fundamental was that the coils were all joined at the top of the unit which allowed water to flow through it only when it was pumped through therefore allowing control of the steam generation and the second, was pulling the steam from the lowest coil which was closest the fire which allowed for the control of the temperature of the steam. This second point was critical because the White steamer operated with superheated steam in order to take advantage of steams unique properties at higher temperatures.

Rollin patented his new designs and offered it to among others Locomobile. Finally Rollin persuaded his father, who was well experienced and entrepreneurial manufacturer, to allow the use of a corner in one of his sewing machine buildings to build his own complete automobile. Rollins brother Windsor, who was a management talent, joined the business venture followed by their brother Walter who became instrumental in the sales, promotion and distribution of the product. The first group of fifty cars was completed in October 1900 but none where offered to the public until April of the following year so that the design could be thoroughly vetted as they were being offered by the automobile department of a sewing machine company and they could not afford the reputation of the parent company be diminished in any way by the introduction of a new and untested product. The White steamer was a success from the very beginning as a result of this careful type of development.

It became necessary in 1905 to separate the automobile department from its parent company in order to accommodate the growth of the business and in order to physically separate them as a fire in the paint department of one could close out both operations.

1909 White

1909 White touring car at the Petersen Automotive Museum

In 1909 president elect William Howard Taft selected a White Model M 40 horse-power 7 person tourer as the first official automobile of the President of the United States. This generated favorable press for the White Motor Company.[1]

The growth of the White Companies manufacturing facility was considerable. This meant that among other things that they had to pay particular interest to the market place as inefficient manufacturing and or a slacking in sales would be magnified by costs. As the White steamer was an excellent automobile it was also a unique technology and this made it vulnerable in a market that was accepting the internal combustion engine as the standard. In response to this White "canvassed" existing gas manufactures and licensed the rights to the Delahaye design for the "gas car" showing a chassis at an English auto show in December 1908. White built their last steam cars for the 1910 model year though they continued to show them in their catalogues as late as 1912. Rollin White at that time became more interested in agricultural tractors at that time and developed some designs for tractors derived from standard White truck parts. When the White Company was not interested in producing tractors Rollin set out to develop his own designs and with brother Clarence eventually founded Cleveland Motor Plow which later became Cletrac tractor. In the early twenties Rollin briefly produced the Rollin car in an order to diversify the tractor company but found that it could not compete in cost versus price against much larger manufactures.

White was successful with their heavy machines which saw service around the world during World War I. White remained in the truck industry for decades. Today, only about 150 White steam cars are known to remain from the 10,000 or so that were made. White produced more steam cars than any other maker, even the more famous Stanley Steam Car. In the 1930s, White produced fleets of small buses specifically designed to carry passengers through the major National Parks of the western United States. The distinctive vehicles, with roll-up canvas convertible tops, were the product of noted industrial designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and originally operated in seven National Parks. Some 35 of these buses continue to operate today in Glacier National Park, where they are referred to as Red Jammers, and a smaller number have been restored for renewed service in Yellowstone National Park.

Truck manufacturingEdit

20070917 Old CFD Squad 10 truck2

This truck served the Chicago Fire Department from 1930 to 1941.

White Motor Company ended car production after World War I and began producing trucks and was a large semi truck manufacturer following the 1920s. The company soon sold 10 percent of all trucks made in the US. Although White produced all sizes of trucks from light delivery to semi, the decision was made after WWII to produce only large trucks. White acquired several truck manufacturing companies during this time: Sterling (in 1951), Autocar (in 1953),[2] Diamond T, and REO. White also agreed to sell Consolidated Freightways, Freightliner trucks through its own dealers.[3] White produced trucks under the Autocar nameplate following its acquisition. Diamond T and REO Motor Car Company became the Diamond REO division, which was discontinued in the 1970s.

A White semi performed a role in the 1949 James Cagney film White Heat. This era was probably the peak of White Motor market penetration, with the substantial gasoline engined tractors moving a large part of the tractor trailer fleet.

White designed and (with other companies) produced the M3 Scout Car, the standard United States Army reconnaissance vehicle at the start of World War II. White also built the later M2, M3, M13, and M16 half-tracks.

In 1967, White started the Western Star division to sell trucks on the west coast.

2006-07-31 - Canada - Alberta - Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park - Waterton Lakes National Park - Waterton - Prince of Wales Hotel - Red Jammers

Two 'red jammers' at the Prince of Wales Hotel.

White busesEdit

In the 1930s, White produced 500 of their small Model 706 buses specifically designed to carry passengers through the major National Parks of the western United States. The distinctive vehicles, with roll-back canvas convertible tops, were the product of noted industrial designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and originally operated in seven National Parks. Today, Glacier National Park operates 33 of their original 35 buses, where they are referred to as "Red Jammers", and seven have been restored for renewed service in Yellowstone National Park]]. Glacier National Park's 33 and Yellowstone National Pars seven buses were refurbished by the Ford Motor Company; Glacier's in 2000-2002 and Yellowstone's in 2007. Each park kept one bus in original condition. In addition, Gettysburg National Battlefield operates two of Yellowstone's original buses.

Company cultureEdit

1910 White touring car

1910 White touring car

During the time brothers Walter and Windsor White ran the company, it was a nice place to work. The company had a library branch, a store which sold necessities at a low cost, sports teams, and concerts by orchestras and jazz bands, as well as musical performances by the workers, many of whom were immigrants from Slovenia and Poland. The company also had picnics at Euclid Beach Park. People wanted to work at White, and sons followed their fathers. Executives visited the plant often.

After Walter White died from a traffic accident, management changed and so did the company attitude. Employees started one of the country's first automobile unions. The Great Depression caused a drop in sales, forcing White to merge with Studebaker. However, White soon became independent again.

In 1935, Robert Fager Black became president, but workers were still unhappy, and they went on strike. Black tried talking to the workers who were striking, and he even got baseball equipment for them and let them play while on strike, so they would have something to do. The workers soon realized the old White was back and went back to work.

Black learned people's names, visited the plant frequently, and asked customers if they were happy with what they purchased. Anyone could visit his office.

Black brought the company back to where it had once been by World War II, during which the company supplied the military with much of its equipment. When husbands went to serve, wives took their jobs, and the work force totaled over 4000. Black provided the services the company had at one time, and he also made sure employees could get to work with carpools.

Black retired in 1956, still beloved by employees.[3]


1962 White Truck; Patchogue, New York-1

1962 "Pullin' Green" tractor in Patchogue, New York.

In 1953 White purchased the Autocar Company, a truck manufacturer located in Pennsylvania. From the 1950s until 1975, White Motors distributed Freightliner's trucks under an agreement with Freightliner's parent, Consolidated Freightways Inc. White manufactured, under its own brands—White, Autocar and Western Star—as well, leading to the company becoming known as the "Big Four" through to the mid-1970s.

By 1980, White was insolvent, despite importing Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, son of General Motors legend Semon Knudsen, and President of Ford Motor Company in 1969–70. Volvo AB acquired the U.S. assets of the company, while two, energy-related companies based in Calgary, Alberta, Bow Valley Resource Services and Nova, an Alberta Corp., purchased the Canadian assets, including the Kelowna, British Columbia, plant, and the Western Star nameplate and product range.

Volvo produced trucks as White and Autocar through the 1980s, while Western Star continued independently in Canada and the U.S., although Volvo-White–produced high cab over engine models were purchased and re-badged Western Star for sale in the Canadian market through the early 1990s.

Volvo-White was merged with GMC's heavy truck business in 1987 creating the WhiteGMC brand, while Western Star was sold to Australian entrepreneur Terry Peabody in 1990. Subsequently, Western Star was resold by Peabody to DaimlerChrysler AG and merged with its Freightliner subsidiary. Volvo dropped any reference to White, and is now Volvo Trucks North America. Autocar remained a part of Volvo until 2000, when the trademark was withdrawn from the market, and was subsequently sold to Grand Vehicle Works together with the Xpeditor low cab forward heavy duty product, which remains in production to this day under the Autocar badge, the last vestige of what was once America's leading commercial vehicle producer.

A former White subsidiary, White Farm Equipment, produced farm tractors until 2001, when they were sold to AGCO in 2001. Lawn and Garden equipment was manufactured under the White Outdoor Products brand and was made by MTD Products. As of 2019, the only products made under the White name is a series of corn planters (made by AGCO).


  • WA
  • WC
  • WX42 pumper/rescue
  • White Horse (1939–1950s)
  • 50A bus
  • 700
  • 800
  • 1500
  • 3000
  • 4000
  • 5000
  • 7000
  • 9000

See alsoEdit


  1. The Washington Post, Feb 24 1909
  2. "Purpose-built trucks engineered by the leading OEM dedicated to severe-duty trucks". Archived from the original on 8 May 2018. Retrieved on 9 May 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Working at White: A History of White Motors". The Western Reserve Historical Society. Retrieved on 2009-10-15.

External linksEdit

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