“This New Era Won’t Fit in Your Mailbox,” New Era, Feb. 1973, 50
Believe it or not, the New Era was in production in 1902. It was called by its producers “simple, reliable, efficient, and practically noiseless.” It did not come by mail but was found in a few garages, and it used gasoline. The first New Era was an automobile.
Karl Benz was probably the first man to successfully adapt the gasoline engine to a motor vehicle. He achieved this in 1885. Gotlieb Daimler, a man working independently of Benz in the very same city, produced a four-wheeled car in 1886. By the time Henry Ford built his first car in 1896, both Daimler and Benz (later Mercedes) automobiles had been produced in five different models each. A new era was still dawning in the automotive industry six years later. A New Era car was produced in 1902, and to call a car “New Era” in 1902 was entirely proper.
What was a gasoline automobile like in 1902? Using the New Era motorcar as our guide, we see that a seven horsepower engine found under the seat drove the rear wheels through double chains and could propel its weight of 950 pounds up to a speed of twenty-five miles per hour. Steering was by tiller, which you turned to the left if you wanted to go right. Unless you lived near Camden, New Jersey, or were fortunate enough to have an agent in your area, you probably had to do without the New Era motorcar. If you were in the right area, however, a New Era car could be bought, including all the extras, from the Automobile and Marine Power Company for $850.
Besides being among the first of the American automobiles to go into circulation, the New Era was among the first of the American automobiles to go out of circulation. This happened in 1903, even before the Ford Motor Company was founded.
The Model T Ford was introduced in October 1908, also at a price of $850. It became one of the biggest success stories the automotive industry has ever known. It featured four cylinders, twenty horsepower, and a light overall weight. To capture a little of the Model T’s success, in 1916 a group of men set out to build a second New Era car, similar to the Ford but with a few improvements. They formed the New Era Engineering Company and placed the name New Era on their product because they thought its exceptional light weight of only 1,760 pounds was a forerunner of things to come. Among the features of their five-passenger touring car was a four cylinder engine of twenty-seven horsepower, an Allis-Chalmers starting motor (an extra on the Ford), a sturdy frame, and brakes that externally contracted and internally expanded on the rear wheel drums. A three-speed transmission and multiple disc clutch drove the power to the rear wheels, which were 30 inches in diameter and 3 1/2 inches wide. The New Era Light Four could be bought for the ridiculously low price of $660 in Joliet, Illinois.
The name of the company was changed in 1917 to the New Era Motors, Incorporated. That is the last we know of the corporation and its cars. Most automobile companies that went out of business during this period did so because of lack of sales, lack of capital, or both.
Fifty-three years later, the New Era name was again revived. This time it was used on a product that achieved wider circulation and traveled many more miles than the previous New Eras’ combined production ever did.
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