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Clayton E. Frederickson’s Patents Company Cyclecars

The lead image shows the Frederickson Cyclecar built by the Frederickson Patents Co. at 2231 Prairie Ave, Chicago, Illinois. Clayton E. Frederickson the engineer of the machine apparently designed and patented a number of engines, devices and machines on view here and then sold the patents or received royalties from the manufacture of them.

Frederickson is sitting in the back seat of the tandem machine with an unknown individual in the front. In the late-1920s Frederickson designed a small economy car named the Littlemac for the Thompson Motor Corporation that was manufactured for about five years.

It has been reported that Frederickson built and sold for $375, both the tandem chain-driven machine and the side-by-side belt-driven car towards the end of the cyclecar craze in 1913-’14. A short article (below) tells of the exceptional liveliness and smoothness of the two-stroke powered machine in The Automobile January 15, 1914, issue.

Frederickson Cycle Car 2

  • The Frederickson side-by-side belt-driven cyclecar.

Littlemac Cyclecar

  • A Frederickson side-by-side belt-driven cyclecar – possibly a prototype with different coachwork.

One of the patent application drawings is included (below) for this unique engine that compressed the fuel and air mixture in its lower cylinder bore and it was then transferred and fired in the upper cylinder. The rest of the interesting drawings for Frederickson’s unique two-stroke engine can be viewed here.

You can view other cyclecars posted here earlier. The images are courtesy of the Musser Public Library.

Frederickson 2-Cycle Engine 1914

  • Patent Application drawing (above) dated March 30, 1914 and granted November 30, 1915 – “The Automobile” January 15, 1914 issue (below) describes the side-by-side version of the cycle car.

Automobile Magazine 1-15-1914

12 responses to “Clayton E. Frederickson’s Patents Company Cyclecars

  1. Great very interesting stuff, as usual! First thing I noticed is that the small fender mounted headlights turn with the front wheels. I wonder if other early manufacturers did this too. I know that there were aftermarket accessory lights that turned like this. They were in addition to the stationary lights. Of course, Tucker had the center cyclops headlight that turned.
    I am still puzzling how the fuel air mix was delivered. Where was the carburetor mounted? If anyone can further explain the workings of the fuel/air delivery, I sure would appreciate it. Thanks!

  2. In 2008, I featured these photos and the stories behind them in Volume 1 of my book series: “Orphan Babies: America’s Forgotten Economy Cars”. Perhaps your readers will enjoy the backstory.

    On a warm autumn weekend in 1913, a photographer had been making portraits in a Chicago neighborhood park when a tiny car wheeled up in front of his lens. The cameraman snapped the shutter and stepped out from under his drape. “Pardon me, sir,” the driver said, “but are you an accomplished photographer?”
    “I suppose so,” the portrait artist said.
    The driver introduced himself as Clayton E. Frederickson, of the Frederickson Patents Company. His passenger was Charles P. Root, president of the newly incorporated Chicago Cyclecar Club and publisher of a new magazine called The American Cyclecar.
    “How do?” the photographer said, as he tipped his hat.
    “Mr. Root and I will be participants in a cyclecar endurance run to Aurora and back this New Year’s Day,” said Frederickson. “We need a photographer to record our adventure. Are you up to the task?”
    The gentleman did not answer. He was too busy examining the odd little cyclecar. The machine was more than a motorcycle but less than an automobile. It was bare-bones, basic transportation—wheels, body and motor. It looked something like a larger automobile that had been squeezed through a keyhole. The Frederickson’s unusual engine idled smooth and slow. It didn’t have the familiar, throaty roar of an automobile or the thumping staccato of a motorcycle. Frederickson raised the hood so the photographer could inspect the tall motor. It looked more like a steam engine than anything he had seen in a gasoline car. Frederickson said it was his own invention. It compressed the gas and air on the underside of the piston, not on the top side. He said the unusual engineering resulted in more miles per gallon.
    The men agreed to meet on New Year’s Day at the Fort Dearborn Massacre Monument at East 18th Street and South Calumet Avenue, close to the Illinois Central Railroad yards for the long-awaited cyclecar endurance run to Aurora and back.
    Frederickson was among the first to arrive. Before long, William Dayton of Joliet arrived in a tandem cyclecar built on a hickory frame and powered by a 9-horsepower Spacke motorcycle engine. Styling was similar to the French Bedelia, but Dayton paid no homage to the foreign prototype. “This car is the purest cyclecar built today,” he said. “It embodies the maximum efficiency and minimum weight and cost. The day’s events will prove out, I assure you, that the Dayton cyclecar will prevail.”
    Soon after, F.P. Choate arrived in his sleek Puritan with a twin-cylinder, 10-horsepower DeLuxe engine under a rakish hood. Its Peerless drive belts were much shorter than either the Dayton or the Frederickson, and were therefore expected to last longer. Unlike the other cyclecars, the Puritan featured side-by-side seating, so it required a wider tread of 42 inches on its 108-inch wheelbase. However, Dayton was quick to point out that he, too, had a side-by-side body in development back in Joliet. Resplendent in cherry red paint and white pin-striping, the Puritan had recently been featured at cyclecar shows in London and Paris. As curious pedestrians stopped to look at the cars, Choate took advantage of the situation and spoke of the Puritan’s virtues to all who would listen. “The field abroad is big,” Choate announced, “but I think it will develop into a bigger field here. The Puritan, in my estimation—but, of course, I’m the designer and may be overzealous—is a cyclecar that will be best adapted to American conditions.”
    A crowd quickly gathered around the cyclecars and crews. The drivers agreed to a speed limit of just seventeen miles per hour because the course took them over some of the worst unsurfaced roads in the county. It took about ninety minutes to get to Aurora. When they arrived, they all talked of putting together a national cyclecar manufacturer’s organization to look after interests in freight rates, legislation and such. Even though the cyclecar idea was brand new, close to one-hundred U.S. manufacturers had already emerged. The group decided to kick off the idea during the Chicago Auto Show at the end of January. The trip back to Chicago covered good, open roads and the men gave in to their competitive natures. First, Frederickson pulled away from the Puritan at speeds of close to 50 miles per hour. He was stunned when the Dayton screamed by pushing close to 80.
    Cyclecars were the darlings of the fourteenth annual Chicago Auto Show, which opened in the Windy City on January 24, 1914, both at the Coliseum and the First Regiment Armory. The Coliseum resembled an enormous sand castle, complete with towers and turrets. The Armory was its medieval counterpart, although it was much less opulent. Event decorators had transformed the open arena space into artificial conservatories in the style of King Louis XIV. Naturally preserved vines, foliage and exotic flowers were gorgeously interwoven into massive scrolls in the Coliseum. Approximately eighty-five makes of automobiles were on display, from tiny cyclecars to the most opulent limousines. Eleven electric vehicles had their own section of the Armory. Nearly two-hundred accessory dealers also showed their wares.
    During the business meeting, cyclecar builders latched onto the manufacturers’ association idea. W.H. MacIntyre of Auburn, Indiana— builder of the popular Imp cyclecar—had the financial wherewithal to launch the American Cyclecar Manufacturers’ Association. Its first order of business was to define the specifications required of an official cyclecar. In Europe, cyclecars were strictly defined as all cars under 1,100 cubic centimeters and weighing less than 672 pounds. However, the American Cyclecar committee determined that all four-wheeled American vehicles under 750 pounds with engines of up to 70 cubic inches could qualify as a cyclecar. Cars with engines of 71 to 90 cubic inches and weight up to 750 pounds were “light” cars, while cars with engines of 100 to 125 cubic inches and weight of 950 to 1,150 pounds were classified as “small” cars.
    Young men with big ideas about little cars rushed to put hastily conceived and poorly built cyclecars on the market. The spindly contraptions failed to hold up under harsh conditions and within a year, the American cyclecar industry had already withered on the vine. On January 17, 1915, the Oakland Tribune published its obituary in an editorial entitled, “Epitaph for the American Cyclecar”:
    “At the onset of the season there was a cyclecar craze—the result of a demand that still exists for a small, but practical four-wheeled motor vehicle. This demand was far more keen than was the demand for automobiles at the inception of the motor car industry, and yet with all the experiences of the motor car builders before them for guidance the cyclecar manufacturers greedily killed their prospects for success through mistakes in the marketing plans of their mechanical mistakes. … The cyclecar makers played the game like children. They designed their first models and with rare short-sightedness believed that the demand was so keen that the public would buy without being shown what the miniatures would do and they left the marketing and advertising to their individual agents, contenting themselves with compelling specifications and offsetting each others’ claims for superiority. Individually the agents could do nothing but satisfy the curiosity of the public as to the mechanical construction and general appearances of their wares. Consequently with no united effort in raising the cyclecar above the comic class with good strong educational advertising copy, the cyclecar industry did not live long enough to merit this brief obituary.”
    In the subsequent fifteen years, Clayton E. Frederickson concentrated his inventive efforts on three burgeoning and potentially lucrative industries—oil, railroad and aircraft. Yet, his interest in manufacturing a small car remained strong. and the city fathers of Moline, Illinois eagerly welcomed him as the driving force behind what would become the Littlemac bantam-sized coupes and truckettes manufactured in limited quantities across the river in Muscatine, Iowa.

    • Anything more than a manuf. listing regarding Dayton Cyclecars of Joliet in your book? A friend has the only surviving Dayton (that we know of).

      • Thanks for asking about the Dayton coverage in my book. I devoted two pages to the Dayton and its successor, the Crusader: one page of text and one full-page ad for the Dayton tandem and side-by-side cyclecars. The book lists approximately 200 American-made cyclecars and includes biographical information and technical data, as well as photos, of roughly half the makes. Although the book is currently out of print, the Olde Milford Press has the last 10 unsold copies. You can find them in the store’s website, still selling at the cover price.

    • In regards to the story about the trial that Mr. Cunningham started, I found the following information.

      Since the endurance run was not a race there was no winner. When the results were printed in the Chicago Daily Tribune on January 2, 1914 the article did not even list an order of finish. The paper stated that all three cars completed the trial. This first article about the run stated, “The Frederickson, another Chicago car, suffered no trouble of any kind.”

      In response to an inquiry by a reader, the Tribune clarified the results in an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune on January 18, 1914.

      “A statement was recently made that the Frederickson cyclecar won the New Years day run of the Chicago Cyclecar club to Elgin [sic], Aurora, and return, although this does not agree with the published statement of the run made in THE TRIBUNE Jan. 2. Can you state what was the result of the event? [signed] John Larsen, Chicago”

      Perhaps the statement that John Larsen was referring to was verbal, but I did not find a printed statement to this effect. The Chicago Tribune responded to Larsen’s question as follows.

      “No car ‘ won ‘ the event – there was nothing to win. It was a run and the cars were only called upon to make an average of seventeen miles an hour, and this all three – Dayton, Puritan, and Frederickson – did, with the Dayton in first, Puritan second, and Frederickson third. These were the only three that started and all finished. The Dayton had no trouble beyond a drive belt coming off a few times due to the fact than an inch and a quarter belt was used in an inch pulley groove. The Puritan changed a fan belt and had a drive belt come off once. The Frederickson had considerable trouble through refuse and oil – used for lubrication in the gasoline tank – stopping the flow of fuel, in being too cool for efficiency and in having the disk refuse to shift because of being without lubrication.”

      In trying to figure out the explanation of what happened to the Frederickson, I found one more article relating to the race in the Tribune from January 11, 1914.

      “Another cold weather warning is to avoid putting lubricating oil in the gasoline tank. This is an excellent scheme in warm weather, as the oil and gasoline will mix readily and a thin film will find its way to the cylinder by being carried there by the gasoline, assuring the motor of at least some lubricant so long as the motor is being operated.

      “The danger of using oil in this manner in cold weather was discovered New Year’s day in the 100 mile run to Elgin [sic] and Aurora and return by the Chicago Cycle club. One car, the Frederickson, with an air cooled motor, used this auxiliary method of oiling. When the motor seemed to need more oil the driver poured a quantity of rather heavy oil in the gasoline tank. The result was that, because of the cold, the oil could not mix with the gasoline, settled in the bottom of the tank, congealed, and almost shut off the supply of fuel to the carbureter, resulting in loss of power and making the motor most difficult to start. When the oil had been drained – and air pressure was needed to force it out of the tank – and fresh gasoline had been supplied, there was no more trouble.”

  3. With a potential 55 mph speed and the free-wheeling characteristics of two-strokes, this must have been a thrilling car to ride in when using what must have been very rudimentary brakes (I don’t see any at all!),

  4. The passenger in the lead photo, the tandem, is Clayton Frederickson, and he is the driver in the side-by-side prototype. The driver in the tandem was not identified. Although it’s possible that it was one of the Thompson brothers, it’s not likely, since the Thompsons were Iowa businessmen and politicians and their hometown of Muscatine was nowhere near Joliet or Chicago. I’ve found no evidence so far that the Thompsons and Frederickson were acquainted in 1913-14 at the time the Frederickson cyclecars were developed. Frederickson was hired to build a small car in the former Velie plant in Moline, but the Thompson brothers convinced him to relocate across the river in Muscatine.

  5. I’ve wondered the same thing, and I cannot find reference to the car’s steering mechanism. It’s interesting to note that the Frederickson cyclecar’s development is actually opposite of the order in which it is photographically depicted here. That is, the first car was the unpainted gray side-by-side car (third photo). The second was the painted side-by-side, and the final version was the tandem (top photo). That illogical progression ran counter to the other cyclecar makers who started with tandem units and bowed to public pressure and built side-by-side cars instead. Perhaps using a tiller instead of a steering wheel is in perfect alignment with Frederickson’s design regression! By the way, Clayton Frederickson developed his cyclecars as a way to demonstrate the superiority of his engines, which he planned to license to other cyclecar companies. Prior to the January 1914 reliability run, Flagler (also of the Chicago area) had announced plans to use a Frederickson engine in its cyclecars. However, they changed to Mack engines, perhaps due to the troubles Frederickson’s engine experienced during the reliability run.

    • Further research turned up the following information on the Frederickson tandem’s steering: “The car is steered by means of a 14-inch wheel centrally located on instrument board and by means of a pinion and sector the column is offset to clear the motor. It is then connected by a drag link to the steering arm in the usual way.” A photo of the car without people in it shows the steering wheel was mounted very low, between the driver’s legs.

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