FIRST PACKARD SALESMAN, ASSISTED J.W. PACKARD WITH HORSELESS VEHICLE
CLAUDE L. MATTHEWS
FIRST PACKARD SALESMAN, ASSISTED J.W. PACKARD WITH HORSELESS VEHICLE
First Automobile Show Held in Madison Square Garden, New York.
When power company executives are handed the card of Claude L. Matthew, Vice-president and Treasurer of W. N. Matthews Corp., St. Louis, they don't have to scratch their heads and say to their secretaries: "Now what's he selling?"
They know. They know Matthews spells fuse-switches, guy anchors, connectors in short, a line of electrical specialties loosely defined by the trade as "pole line hardware."
Yet today Matthews might spell cars- Packard cars- had not the infant electrical industry been a toddler's jump ahead of the automobile industry at the century's start, for, as the records show, Mr. Matthews can claim the title of FIRST PACKARD SALESMAN. His first two sales -four cars inside of an hour- had much to do with the launching of the Packard Motor Car Company.
Fresh from Princeton University, Mr. Matthews went to work in the summer of 1899 for J. W. and W. D. Packard in Warren, Ohio, where he was put to work cutting up sheet iron.
The discovery of his ability as a draughtsman led to his assisting J. W. Packard with the drawings of the first Packard Horseless Vehicle, the success of which, when built, caused friends of the Packard brothers to insist that they produce cars commercially.
To that end, four cars were built, and to Mr. Matthews was assigned the task of taking the finished cars to New York for the first U. S. automobile show. Held in Madison Square Garden the first week in November, 1900, it was an event which, to judge by the newspapers of those days, was chiefly notable for the costumes worn by Mrs. Herman Oelrichs and other members of the Four Hundred, who turned out in full regalia to inspect these strange marvels of the century just born.
"Just getting those cars from Hoboken to the old Madison Square Garden was a tough job," said Mr. Matthews. "First, there was a little matter involving $125 for freight charges. Fortunately, I was able to dig down into my own pocket and pay them. Next, ferry boat officials at Hoboken made us drain off all the gasoline we carried and refused to let us carry it across in pails. Believe me, when I recall how we had to canvass grocery stores on the other side for gasoline, generally kept in small amounts in cans sealed by potatoes pressed into their spouts, I can appreciate the convenience afforded by the number of filling stations we have today.
"After much delay, we finally got started along West Street, and headed for Madison Square Garden. The car I was driving somehow got stuck in the tracks of the old combination freight and horse car line which ran along that thoroughfare, and a crowd of teamsters promptly lined up to laugh and jeer at a young man who dared to think he could drive a carriage without a horse. At length, a friendly drayman helped me hoist the back of the car up on his wagon shaft, and, lashing his horses, jolted the car out of the rut.
"Crowds of people attended the first automobile show on the opening night, and I was just finishing the work of dusting off those Packard carriages when a man walked up and began firing all sorts of questions at me. "He seemed particularly interested in one feature, which I believe to have been one of the best about the first Packards. This was the great, heavy flywheel, which was necessary in those early days of the single cylinder engine to keep the machine going in the intervals between explosions. "This flywheel, as I recall, was mounted on the crankshaft, and, by means of three heavy coil springs, a crowfoot attached to the periphery of the flywheel transmitted power to the axle. In other machines, the flywheel was bolted rigidly to the shaft, and thus made them ride in a jerky and less comfortable fashion than the Packard vehicles.
"There were other important advances in horseless vehicles engineered by the Packards which proved interesting to my first prospect. J. W. Packard, even in those days, had done much research on steel alloys. Many parts of his first cars were made of these stronger steels, instead of the malleable and cast-iron parts used by other car makers. And last, but by no means least, as a sales argument, was the automatic spark advance which Packard invented for his first horseless vehicles.
"After I had covered all these points my prospect, unquestionably the first prospect ever contacted by a Packard automobile salesman, gave me a real thrill. 'Just as soon as you can do so,' he said. 'Please deliver three of these machines to the stables of Mr. William Rockefeller.'
"I gave him a blank sheet of paper and asked him to write it all down which he did. I never did get his name. I must have been too excited. Besides, he had hardly turned away, when another man, resplendent in full evening dress, walked up to me and began asking questions about the Packards.
"Now, I must confess, I had had my doubts about the first man. He might have been kidding me, trying to take me in with his statement that he represented the second richest man in the United States, but there was no doubt in my mind about this second prospective customer. His cultured accent and well-groomed appearance led me to believe that here was a man who could, and probably would, buy a Packard if I could convince him they were superior to any other horseless vehicles on the market.
"The main thing he was interested in was whether or not the things would run. Apparently, the assurance I gave him on this point was sufficient. 'You can send one of them to me at my home in Wellesley Hills, near Boston,' he said, as he was about to pass on to other exhibits. 'My name is Hollis Honeywell.'
"When Mr. Packard arrived the next morning from Warren, the principal thing that interested him was why I was wearing a leather cap with a visor, and how much I had paid for it, and I was primarily interested in getting back the $125 I had advanced on the freight bill.
"After these important matters had been settled, I said: 'Oh, by the way, Mr. Packard, here are two orders I got last night. The one from Mr. Honeywell looks real to me. About the Rockefeller order. I'm not so sure ..."
'My boy.' Mr. Packard shouted. 'If those orders are bona fide, it means we are in the horseless vehicle business! If people will buy these things that easily, we'll have to build a factory right away and get busy. And if those "sales" stick, I'll double your salary.'
"He didn't waste any time to investigating. Before the day was over, Mr. Packard had arranged to deliver the cars to Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Honeywell and, true to his word, Mr. Packard doubled my salary.
"Then he hurried back to Warren and began at once to plan a factory for the production of more Packard Horseless Vehicles. After we were going in the factory which had been set up in conjunction with the electrical plant operated by the Packard brothers, more orders for machines began to pour in. J. W. Packard was convinced something might come of the business, but even he didn't have any idea that horseless carriages would was ever become generally popular. In those days no one ever thought they would ever be more than a sporty proposition for young men of wealth to drive around on the paved streets of cities and parks.
“I talked the whole matter over with Mr. Packard after I decided to quit and go back to St. Louis to enter the electrical specialty business. I could see no great future in horseless carriages. For one thing, I couldn't see how they could ever be used generally on the terrible roads we had in those days. In wet weather, the mud was too deep, and in dry weather, dust made automobile driving anything but pleasant and comfortable.
"Mr. Packard wanted me to stay on with him, and even offered me some stock in his company if I'd stay, but he agreed with me that I'd probably make a lot more by selling electrical specialties than I would selling horse less vehicles. So, the first Packard salesman quit selling horseless vehicles without ever having interviewed more than his first two customers!" ●