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Dayton Missed Opportunity to Manufacture Horseless Carriage


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on April 2, 1994

by Roz Young

             Dayton has always been proud that it was here the cash register was invented, the electric self-starter was developed and the airplane was invented.
            It may come as a surprise to learn that the town's businessmen were once offered an opportunity to become manufacturers of yet another world-class invention.
            In August 1897 Mrs. Juana Achey Neil arrived in Dayton from Chicago. She stayed as a guest in the home of Dr. Jefferson A. Walters and his wife Lucetta at 35 E. First St. She was the widow of a former Dayton physician, explained the story in the Daily News of August 13, and had once been a leader of Dayton society before moving to Chicago after the death of her husband.
            She had come back to Dayton with a grand purpose: to organize a company to manufacture horseless carriages and thus give Dayton the opportunity to be in at the beginning of the emerging automobile industry. She represented the Chicago Electric Vehicle Co., holder of the patents to the electric motor car.
            "She is a pleasant-faced, intelligent woman about 50 years of age," the news story said, "but is as active as a girl in her teens and is up and about early each morning in financial circles. It is said that should her present plans culminate successfully, Mrs. Neil will enrich herself and others.
            "Several years ago Mrs. Neil enjoyed the benefits of a California real estate boom and cleared several hundred thousand dollars. Since that time she has traveled continuously in this country and abroad, and has met with unqualified success in launching most of her enterprises. A meeting has been called for Monday night at the gas company's office at Second and Main, where the horseless vehicle proposition will be discussed."
            At the meeting Ebenezer Thresher acted as chairman and A.C. Marshall served as secretary. Also at the meeting were S.H. Carr, John W. Stoddard, Mrs. and Mrs. Robert Russell Dickey, Mrs. Edward Pease, Mrs. H.C. Graves, Torrence Huffman, Jonathan H. Winters, Thomas Legler, Henry C. Lowe, Mrs. Edward Grimes, John Harries, William P. Callahan, G.N. Bierce, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen N. Brown, H.C. Graves, John K. McIntire, Mrs. William D. Bickham and George D. Shaw. It was a glittering assemblage of the moneyed leaders of Dayton industry and business.
            Mrs. Neil explained the costs and profits of making horseless carriages, the demand in this country and abroad for them and the prospects for the future.
            John W. Stoddard reported that he had recently returned from Chicago where he had taken a ride in one of Mrs. Neil's carriages. "It was under perfect control and ran through the most crowded business district," he said. "It will stop in its own length, back, turn around, in short do anything the operator desires. Later I was taken out on the boulevard and showed it possesses all the speed one desires, fully 10 miles an hour."
            Nrs. Neil showed photographs of the models of the vehicle and stated that it would prove a great industry for Dayton. She thought that the plant of the S.N. Brown Co. could be used.
            "We need to raise half a million dollars to acquire all the rights to the vehicle," she said in conclusion. "Of this sum I will receive $100,000, which I will invest in stock in the company. In addition we would have to raise an extra $280,000 for working capital. This is a total of $730,000 capital stock, or $630,000 after I realize my $100,000."
            A general discussion followed. The decision was that since the proposition was a new one, time was needed to investigate, and Stoddard, Bierce, McIntire, Lowe and Callahan were appointed to act as a committee to meet with Mrs. Neil in Chicago the next week.
            That was in August. In October Mrs. Neil and officers of the Chicago company came to Dayton bringing two of the electric automobiles for demonstration.
            The paper reported that thousands of social and cosmopolitan Daytonians thronged Main Street to watch the noiseless vehicles perform.
            Alas, Mrs. Neil's plans fell through.
            The Dayton businessmen decided it was too risky to invest that amount of cash in such a venture.
            History has not recorded what became of Mrs. Neil, but opportunity knocked on the door in Detroit and Henry Ford, among others, opened it.