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Francis Edgar Stanley c1882
A self-portrait of Francis Edgar (F. E.) Stanley taken about 1882

Francis Edgar Stanley (1849 – 1918), was an American inventor, photographer and manufacturer. He and his twin brother Freelan Oscar Stanley invented and manufactured the Stanley Steamer car. They were pioneers in the use of steam engines to power cars.

Early life

Francis E. Stanley and his twin Freelan O. Stanley were born on 1 June 1849 in Kingsfield, Maine. Their parents were Solomon and Apphia (French) Stanley. Solomon Stanley was both a farmer and a teacher. He and his brother graduated from Farmington State Normal School in Farmington, Maine. The school is now the University of Maine at Farmington. Francis became a teacher, and taught at New Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Strong, Maine. In 1870 he met and married Augusta May Walker, another teacher. Together they had three children. In 1875 he left teaching and moved to Auburn, Maine. He became an artist and photographer opening a studio there. He began to do more portrait photography and opened two more studios in Lewiston and Bridgton, Maine. In the early 1880s he started experimenting with the new dry plate way of taking pictures.

In 1885 both brothers left their jobs and started a company to make photographic plates for photographers. they sold their shop four years later when they moved to Watertown, Massachusetts. They started another photographic plate business, but sold it to Eastman Kodak in 1904. The photographic plate business had made both brothers very wealthy.

The Stanley Steamer

In 1897 the two brothers began experimenting and making steam-powered cars. They were soon making about 200 cars a year. In 1899 they purchased a bicycle factory in Watertown and began building their cars. They then sold their car company to John B. Walker and Amzi L. Barber for $250,000 USD. With it they sold the rights to their car designs. The sale had a clause that the two Stanley brothers could not build and sell cars for two years. The Stanley brothers broke the clause and had to give their new design to the company Walker and Barber formed, the Locomobile Company of America. In 1901 Francis and Freelan Stanley formed a new car company, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company.

The cars they produced, called Stanley Steamers, had many advantages. The cost was $650. That was $300 less than the cost of a Ford Model T. The cars were very quiet and only made hissing sounds from the boiler. They had no transmission because there was no need to change gears as there was with gasoline-powered cars. Their cars began making news. In 1899, Freelan and his wife Flora drove one of these cars to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the northeastern United States. The ascent took more than two hours and was notable as being the first time a car had climbed the 7.6 miles (12.2 km) long Mount Washington Carriage Road. In 1906 a Stanley Steamer broke the land speed record at 127 miles per hour on a beach in Florida.

Later years

As other car companies moved from steam to gasoline power, the Stanley Steamer became the most popular steam powered car. As the internal combustion engine designs improved, however, steam and electric cars lost much of their popularity. Finally, the numbers of cars sold went down to less than 600 a year in 1918. That year the Stanley brothers sold the company to Prescott Warren, a Chicago businessman. both brothers retired. A few months later, while he was driving home from a trip to Maine, his car ran off the road. He was driving a new 1918 Model 735 Stanley Steamer. He died in the accident, July 21, 1918. He was 69 years old. His brother Freelan lived to be 91 years old.

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