Henry Ford with the Quadricycle, Detroit, Michigan, October 1896

Summary

Henry Ford drove his first automobile, the Quadricycle, on the streets of Detroit in June 1896. Just before he sold it, he asked John Livesey to take this photo in October 1896. Lawyers for Ford used this photographic print in 1905 as evidence in the Selden Patent Suit. It has a handwritten label at the top meaning defendants' exhibit 4.A.

Henry Ford drove his first automobile, the Quadricycle, on the streets of Detroit in June 1896. Just before he sold it, he asked John Livesey to take this photo in October 1896. Lawyers for Ford used this photographic print in 1905 as evidence in the Selden Patent Suit. It has a handwritten label at the top meaning defendants' exhibit 4.A.

For the Ford Motor Company, the Selden patent suit was a classic case of being handed lemons and making lemonade. The Selden patent was the handiwork of Rochester, New York, lawyer George Selden, who designed (but did not actually build) a horseless carriage with a gasoline-burning internal combustion engine. He filed for a patent on his idea in 1879, but for the next sixteen years he delayed final approval by regularly filing minor modifications to the design. In 1895, sensing that a viable horseless carriage industry was about to be born, Selden finally permitted the Patent Office to act on his application. In November he received a patent that he claimed covered all gasoline-powered vehicles designed since his original 1879 application and all that would be designed, built, and sold in the United States until the patent's expiration in 1912. Having no interest in actually making a car, he assigned the patent to the Columbia and Electric Vehicle Company in 1899, which reorganized as the Electric Vehicle Company in 1900. The Electric Vehicle Company filed patent infringement suits against five automobile makers. Ultimately these five, along with ten others, settled with the company and agreed to form a patent-pooling combination called the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. ALAM collected royalties on each car sold (paying a portion to Selden and the Electric Vehicle Company) and decided which automakers could gain admission to ALAM. ALAM would sue any manufacturer not admitted and run it out of business.

The Ford Motor Company applied for ALAM membership in 1903, but the association rejected the application on the grounds that Ford was merely an assembler, not a manufacturer. ALAM then published an ad in the Detroit News warning that makers, sellers, and buyers of unlicensed cars could be prosecuted by ALAM. Ford published a counter advertisement in the Detroit Free Press promising protection for its dealers and customers, and the war was on. The antagonists traded barbs in paid ads until ALAM sued in late 1903. The case dragged on for over seven years, with Ford losing in 1909 but ultimately winning on appeal on January 9, 1911. Ford's fight with ALAM coincided with the rising tide of Progressivism and public concern with the growing power of big business. The Selden patent suit came to be seen by the public as a battle of the little guy against the big bully. It marked the first time that the national media and the public at large noticed the Ford Motor Company and its founder.

Detailed Description
Artifact

Photographic print

Subject Date

October 1896

 On Exhibit

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Object ID

00.1334.136

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Material

Paper (Fiber product)

Technique

Gelatin silver process

Color

Black-and-white (Colors)

Dimensions

Height: 5.25 in

Width: 7 in

Inscriptions

Nettie V. Belles Wayne County, Mich. Notary Public Seal [embossed on front of print] Defts Exhibit 4. A. [written in ink at top of print] Defendants Ex. No.95 Side View of Ford's first machine November 29, 1905 Nettie V. Belles Notary Public [written sideways in ink on front of print]

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