Zac McDorrKingfield is a town that was founded by Maine’s first governor, William King, who named it after himself. A century later it was the hometown of Francis and Freeland Stanley, whose automobiles would grace the dirt roads of early America and the concrete floor of Jay Leno’s garage.

Like many early inventors, the twin Stanley brothers were renaissance men who excelled in several areas of business. Freeland was the first American to produce violins commercially and later started a school supply business. Francis started manufacturing dry plates for photographers.

After his brother joined him, the Stanley Brothers Dry Plate Manufacturing Co. was bought out by Kodak, which gave the men plenty of money and free time to try something else.

One day they attended a steam car demonstration. Rather than complete two laps around a track as promised, the car conked out after half a lap. The Stanleys decided they could do better, even though they knew nothing about steam engines.

The first engine they ordered weighed 400 pounds, which was far too heavy. With the help of a mechanic named S.R. Penney in Mechanic Falls, they came up with a motor and boiler that weighed less than 100 pounds and was superior to anything available.

The first Stanley Steamer would be completed in 1896. By 1899 they were producing and selling 200 cars a year, despite refusing to advertise.

To prove the new steam car, one of the Stanleys drove a Steamer up Mount Washington in 1899, achieving the feat in a little over two hours. By 1903 he was able to do the same climb in 23 minutes with an updated model. A special racing car called the Stanley Rocket broke several records in 1906, reaching the speed of 127.6 mph. Later they increased the steam pressure and reached 197 mph, but the car came apart.

When the Locomobile Co. offered to buy out the Stanleys, they tossed out the ridiculous price of $250,000. The Locomobile Co. paid it. Later, when the Stanley brothers started a new steam car business, Locomobile decided it was fruitless to compete with them and sold them back their patents at pennies on the dollar.

Francis Stanley crashed his Stanley Steamer in 1917 while trying to avoid a horse. He was killed. Steam cars could not compete with mass-produced gasoline cars like the Ford Model T, so his brother eventually sold out.

The last Stanley left the factory in 1925. In all, less than 20,000 were produced. If you want one today, prepare to shell out six figures for a running example.

Source and photo: Down East Magazine, July 1967

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