Black History Month Automotive History

Black History Month in Automotive Industry | African American Automotive History

In respect of Black History Month, we would like to honor some of the greatest achievements African Americans have made to the automotive industry, and how we continue to enjoy the excellence of these fellow engineers, inventors, and racing prodigies. Black History Month is vital to remembering and honoring the legends that have built what we take for granted today. 

C.R. Patterson: Founder of World's First African American Automotive Company


Many have not heard of the legend of C.R. Patterson, the first and only African American founder of an automotive company. C.R. Patterson & Sons Company was founded in 1893, stemming from a partnership with J.P. Lowe in the carriage-making business. C.R. Patterson is the epitome of a rags to riches story, as he began life a slave in a West Virginia plantation in 1833. After escaping to Ohio in the 1860's, C.R. Patterson went on to learn blacksmith trade skills that would attribute to his success in the automotive industry. C.R. Patterson & Sons were direct competitors to newly established Ford, and without the same funding, C.R. Patterson switched his focus to manufacture buses, trucks, and other utility vehicles. C.R. Patterson & Sons became the go to manufacturer for buses in midwestern school districts that had recently abandoned horse-drawn carriages in 1920.


CR Patterson Automotive
CR Patterson Bus

The C.R. Patterson & Sons Company bus made headway in helping school districts across the country transfer from traditional horse drawn carriages to one of the first ever combustion engine vehicles leading the way to the transportation we see in businesses and schools today.


Homer Roberts: First African American Car Dealership Owner


Homer Roberts was critical to the advancement of African American society by exclusively brokering deals to many first time African American car buyers, and built his business from 7 used cars to a Ford frachise of 60 vehicles. Homer Roberts not only became the first African American dealership owner, but led the industry in sales for Rickenbacker, an American automobile manufacturer selling sport coupes, touring cars, and sedans out of detroit.


Homer Roberts Automotive Owner
Homer Roberts Dealership

Pictured here is the very first African American owned car dealership that Homer Roberts then went on to build out to a Ford franchise showroom, service and parts department, body shop, and even a gast station. Not only was he first, Homer Roberts led the nation in Rickebacker and Hupmobile sales in the 1920's.


Charlie Wiggins: African American Racing Legend


Charlie Wiggins began his childhood shining shoes across the street of an auto repair shop in the early 1900's. One day he was invited in to help work in the shop, and a few years later he became chief mechanic at the start of World War 1. Charlie Wiggins then moved to Indiana in 1922 where he opened his own garage and began to pursue his racing dream. Segregated from the Indy 500, Charlie Wiggins and other African American drivers began their own racing league, which drew a fanbase of 12,000 in their first debut race in 1924. Over his racing career, Charlie Wiggins won 3 Gold and Glory Sweepstake Championships. He then used his fame to speak against segregation in the automotive industry, quickly becoming a KKK target. Charlie Wiggins honorably kept pursuing African American excellence in racing until the year he died in 1972.


Charlie Wiggins Racer
Charlie Wiggins Racecar

Pictured is Charlie Wiggins racing in his racecar named "the Wiggins Special", a vehicle he built in his own garage using salvaged junkyard parts. Astonishingly, it was this same vehicle he managed to win several races in and cemented him as one of the first African American racecar drivers.


Wendell Scott: African American NASCAR Legend


Wendell Scott served in the segregated army in World War 2 and came back to open up an auto repair shop. Wendell had inherited his love for automotive from his father who worked as a driver for wealthy white families. Once Wendell came back from the war he found himself illegally running mooonshine in the backroads of Virginia until he was stopped in 1949. After his stint running whiskey, Wendell Scott started attending local stockcar races where he soon realized his true passion was in racing, and began to find his way into the racing scene. Wendell Scott became the first African American to race in NASCAR, and finished top 10 in over one fifth of his races. As such was his legendary career that his life was made into the movie Greased Lightening.


Wendell Scott Racer
Wendell Scot Racecar

Wendell Scott was first banned from competing in NASCAR because of the color of his skin. He was persistent however, and continued to dominate smaller stockcar races until eventually he was accepted into NASCAR as the first licensed African-American NASCAR driver.


George Washington Carver: Bio-Fuel Inventions in Automotive


George Washington Carver may be familiar to some for his inventions in science and technology, but what many do not realize is the significance he had in the early stages of the automotive industry. Long time friend of Henry T. Ford, Carver worked with Ford to create a rubber substance from Goldenrod that would become the main product for tires. His research went on to fuel several other automotive initiatives, and we are thankful for the hand he had in building automotive components for the industry.


George Carver Automotive

Garret Morgan: Traffic Safety Pioneer


To this day Garret Morgan has contributed one of the most important pieces of technology to safe daily driving. Before Garret Morgan had a hand in automotive traffic management, traffic lights used to switch from green to red without warning. It was Garret Morgan who introduced the yellow traffic signal, and ended up becoming one of the biggest deterrents to auto collision in the early stages of automobiles.


Garret Morgan

Richard B. Spikes: Inventor of the Turning Signal


Still foreign technology to some, Richard B. Spikes was a highly intelligent African American engineer that patented the technology for the first ever turn signals. Additionally, Spikes continued to invent other automotive safety components such as safety brakes and even an automatic car washer.


Richard B Spikes