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Monopoly on Wheels

Henry Ford and the Selden Automobile Patent

William Greenleaf With a New Introduction by David L. Lewis

Publication Year: 2011

Examines the eight-year legal fight to overturn the Selden automobile patent in the early days of the American auto industry.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

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pp. ix-xi

It is seldom indeed that a story as dramatic as this, a narrative as fascinating, offers so much material of analytical value forthe student of history. The author is concerned primarily with one of the numerous legal duels over patent rights; but he does much the essential elements of the automotive industry. In doing this he presents a thoughtful interpretation of the processes inherent...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The story of the early motor car industry in the United States is inseparable from the shaping influence of the Selden automobile patent and the pioneer builders who took their stand as champions or opponents of the broad Selden claim to the invention of the gasoline automobile. The formative period of the industry is also inseparable from the emerging...

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pp. xv-xxviii

Kudos to the Wayne State University Press for reprinting William Greenleaf's definitive book on the Selden patent suit, which a century ago liberated the auto industry and became a foundation stone upon which Henry Ford's folk heroism was built. Copies of the original book, selling for $5.95 in 1961, are commonly priced at more than $800 on the used-book market....

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PROLOGUE: Roots of a Legend

One of the momentous episodes of American industrial history is the encounter between Henry Ford and the Selden automobile patent. In grappling with the giant of monopoly in the motor car industry, Ford achieved a double purpose. He validated his legal right to accomplish the revolutionary feat of building a car for the masses....

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I. Beginnings

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pp. 5-26

The automobile, more clearly than most mechanical creations, illustrates the fact that any notable invention is seldom if ever one man's achievement, but rather that of a number of men, each building on the accomplishments of his predecessors. "Invention implies research," Waldemar Kaempffert has observed....

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II. The Long Vigil

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pp. 27-48

In 1879 Selden had no reason to doubt the primacy of his scheme to harness a light internal combustion engine to a road vehicle. Indeed, had he made a thorough study of patent publications disclosing earlier attempts to use a gas engine for that purpose, he would have been encouraged in his belief that he was a trail-blazer. The record of such undertakings revealed a long train of abortive effort....

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Ill. Mr. Whitney Comes to Hartford

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pp. 49-70

There is no doubt that in 1895 the Selden automobile was obsolete. The patent disclosed nothing that pushed forward the frontiers of technology. In its details, the Selden structure was inferior to the horseless carriages made by automotive pioneers after 1885. But, as the creation of a patent lawyer, the Selden car was an almost impeccable legal invention.

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IV. The Opening Battle

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pp. 71-94

In 1899 the grand resources of the Electric Vehicle Company stood at more than $100,000,000, virtually all of it on paper. We have seen that the electric automobile could not find a market justifying this nominal capitalization unless the guaranteed outlets projected by the Whitney-Ryan syndicate developed rapidly...

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V David and Goliath

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pp. 95-122

IN February, 1903, when the Manufacturers' Mutual Association gathered for a conference during the Chicago automobile show, a fresh counter-proposal on the royalty rate was dispatched to Day. The independents demonstrated their resolve by making individual contributions of $2,500 to a "fighting fund," as Smith called it. They elected Smith...

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VI. A Mountain of Evidence

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pp. 123-144

As the autumn of 1903 closed in, anxiety weighed heavily upon the unlicensed camp. The A.L.A.M. now had twenty-seven members, and was narrowly restricting its membership. As Motor World put it: "It now looks as if there are some to whom it will be said, 'You may remain in business,' and others to whom the injunction, 'No room for you,' will be given." 1

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VII. The Tournament of Motors

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pp. 145-168

By far the liveliest episode of the Selden patent case in the legal arena was the rivalry of museum-piece motor cars built by the two major contestants. The long-delayed appearance of the Selden horseless carriage, suddenly called into existence after a dormancy of twenty-five years, recalled the misty origins of the automobile age....

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VIII. Trade War

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pp. 169-196

The industry wide battle outside the courts began with the organization of separate trade associations and the emergence of the first unified and stable alliance of independents against the Selden licensees. The sharp clashes between these camps were not without constructive achievements o

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IX. Argument and Decision

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pp. 197-232

The year 1909 opened in a glow of optimism for the A.L.A.M. Its new emblem showed an eagle perched on an automobile wheel, clutching a laurel wreath. Confidence also prevailed in the unlicensed ranks, although hope was mixed with anxiety over the judge most likely to preside at the trial hearing. Since the central issues were questions of fact rather...

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X. Path of Progress

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pp. 233-254

The defeat of the patent made Ford the dominant figure of the American automobile world. One editor termed the decision "a tremendous triumph for one man—Henry Ford," while another declared that "today the name of Ford is on the lips of everybody familiar with the motor industry and his fighting qualities are being admitted more than ever."...


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pp. 255-274


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pp. 275-290


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pp. 291-302

E-ISBN-13: 9780814335840
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814335123

Page Count: 330
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a

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Subject Headings

  • Ford, Henry, 1863-1947 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Selden, George Baldwin, 1846-1922 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Automobiles -- Patents -- History -- 20th century.
  • Automobile industry and trade -- Law and legislation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Patent suits -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
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