E. R. Thomas      .............      Rich Products Corporation - Table of Contents     ........................  Niagara Street Industrial Heritage

E. R. Thomas Motor Co. / Rich Products Corp.
1200 Niagara St.
, Buffalo, NY

More History Beneath Illustrations

Built:
1901-1902;
Rear buildings 1905-1909
Architect:
Sidney H. Woodruff
The building at 1200 Niagara Street is set on an extensive polygonal lot, located on the west side of the street that spans the block between West Ferry Avenue and Breckenridge Street.

Niagara Street is a longstanding thoroughfare in the far west of the neighborhood along the river. Already laid out in 1809, Broadway as it was originally called, connected Buffalo with Niagara Falls. Though currently dominated by aging industrial and commercial properties, Niagara was once a residential street with a number of fine dwellings - Buffalo’s first Delaware Avenue. The transformation of Niagara Street from residential to industrial began in the 1880s and 1890s.

The property is located in the far south western section of the Grant-Ferry-Forest neighborhood.

An early twentieth century, urban, brick, office and factory building complex. Multiple components- main, two-story, regular rectangular building; additional factory buildings at the rear. Facade defined by regular spaced, tiered single windowing with sills and subtle arched openings. The main entrance with recessed arched surround, sidelights, and flat roofed awning is located slightly off center to the north on the lower facade.

Additional entrances at the far end of either side bay, set in alignment with the windowing. Similar arched windowing pattern on the side elevations. Small parapet at the front roofline.

The building at 1200 Niagara Street is significant as a good representative example of an architect designed, early twentieth century, urban, office and factory building complex. Built as the office and factory building of the E. R. Thomas Motor Co., a nationally prominent early manufacturer of automobiles.

The three-story reinforced concrete factory buildings at the rear were added in 1905-1909. Here were produced the famous “Thomas Flyer” automobiles, one of which won the first New York to Paris auto race in 1908.

Thomas sold the company in 1912, and the buildings were subsequently used for other industrial purposes. Now used by Rich Products Co.
- Grant-Ferry-Forest, Buffalo, NY Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey





E. R. Thomas




1902 building with 1909 addition   ...   Note company name above the entrance (detailed below:)




















The Thomas Flyer


One of several photos taken at the  Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum in 2011



E. R. Thomas











1909



1909




The Thomas Flyer

The Thomas Flyer made its claim to fame when its 1907 model 35 was entered at the last moment in the 1908 New York to Paris Race. The 4-cylinder, 70-horsepower vehicle was one of 5 vehicles to make the trip and the only American entry. Thomas employee and Springville native George Schuster was the only member of the Thomas crew to complete the entire 170-day, 12, 427 land mile trip.

The Thomas Flyer won the race and Thomas sales increased as a result of the advertising, from 816 automobiles in 1908 to 1,035 in 1909.

But the Thomas Motor Company began its rapid decline when Henry Ford introduced the cheap, quickly built Model T. Despite E. R. Thomas' insistence that the "low-class" automobile would fade away because people would prefer the "high-class" vehicles like
the Thomas, the buying public proved otherwise. In 1910, 913 Thomas Flyers were sold, and 356,000 Ford Model T's.

E.R. Thomas sold the failing company in 1911 to a financial firm that tried to save it. But by 1913, a bankruptcy sale was held and nearly all that remained of the company was its factory complex, adaptively re-used in 2006 by the Rich Products Corporation.
- Western New York Heritage magazine (online June 2017)
The Thomas Flyer

E. R. Thomas made the Cleveland bicycles in Buffalo in the late 1800s. In 1900 Thomas began production of motorized motorcycles and then engines from 1901 to 1902.

His first automobile was built in 1899 and called the Autotwo. From 1900 to 1902 Thomas granted a license to The Buffalo Automobile & Auto-Bi Co. who built the American Automobile called the Buffalo. In 1902 The E. R. Thomas Motor Car Co. was formed and Thomas took over Buffalo operations.

In 1903 Thomas introduced a double chain driven Touring Car powered by a three cylinder in line engine that developed 24 horsepower. Shown above in this vintage advertisement it was called "An Automobile For Family Use". This car was priced at $1250.00 to $1400.00.

The name Thomas Flyer was applied to the American Automobiles produced in 1905 to about 1912. The most famous model was a 1908 72 horsepower six cylinder Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris automobile race in 1908. In the race the Thomas Flyer drove around the world in 169 days. Winning the 1908 New York to Paris race had a short but positive effect on Thomas Flyer sales.

In 1911 the E. R. Thomas Motor Co. was reorganized into The E. R. Thomas Motor Car Co. due to poor sales. By the end of 1912 The E. R. Thomas Motor Car Co. was in receivership. Which resulted from actions in the equity brought by the creditors because The E. R. T
homas Motor Car Co. was unable to meet its obligations. The last cars from Thomas were built to order in 1918, and possibly as late as 1919.
- American Automobiles (online June 2017)

The E. R. Thomas Motor Car Co.


In 1895 Edwin R. Thomas formed a partnership with H. A. Lozier in Toronto to manufacture bicycles. In 1900 he sold out to the Canada Cycle and Motor Co. of which he was vice president; then shortly afterwards he resigned this position and moved to Buffalo where he set up business in the old Globe Bicycle factory at Elm St. and Broadway. Here he soon turned to the manufacturing of motorcycles.

The first automobile which the Thomas Company turned out was assembled from parts made by the Covert Co. of Lockport. In 1903 it made its own model, a two passenger car with a one cylinder motor, cooled by a radiator of horizontal tubes that hung over the chassis. Later, it made three and four cylinder cars which
sold from $3,000 to $3,500. In 1908 it achieved international prominence by entering a car in the first race around the world, an event which was followed eagerly by the public throughout Europe and America.

The Thomas arrived in Paris on July 30, four days behind the German Protos. The Thomas won the race by 26 days, however, because of a credit given for being the only car to go to Alaska, and the penalty imposed upon the Protos for not driving all the way to San Francisco on its own power. The distance the Thomas covered was 13,341 miles, or 3,246 more than the Protos. The Italian lust reached Paris 49 days behind the Thomas.
 
When the Thomas car returned to Buffalo, world famous, it was escorted from the city line to Lafayette Square by the 74th Regiment Band and a parade of cars a mile long.

With this demonstration that the American car was the equal of the European, the sales of the Thomas Co. boomed temporarily. Its factory at  c was busy night and day turning out taxis and fire engines as well as pleasure cars.

The company was soon in difficulty, however. Even its world- wide publicity could not sustain an inferior product. The next two models, the L and M, were so poorly designed, according to Schuster, that they gave endless trouble to their owners and the dealers, and brought about a loss of personnel among both dealers and factory men. The Model L was noisy, underpowered and leaked oil. The company, furthermore, made the mistake of publishing false information about the race in its official brochure.  This claimed that during the race the car was "never in the repair shop, none of the valves ground or changed; not a spark plug was changed; nor were the crankshaft bearing changed or adjusted."

While the rest of the industry was expanding rapidly, the company's sales rose from 816 in 1908 to 1,036 in 1909 and then dropped to 913 in 1910. The model MX was a good one, but it was put out too late to repair the damage.

In 1911 Mr. Thomas sold the company, of which he was the sole owner, to the banking house of Eugene Meyer. The Meyer firm brought in Packard men to straighten out the situation, but they were unable to restore public confidence. The company went bankrupt in August, 1912.
- Roger Squier, Adventures in Western New York History: Manufacturers of Wheels and Motors (online September 2017)

Thomas, Edwin R.
(1850-1936)
Invented the Thomas Flyer, a sturdy automobile that he entered in an around-the-world race from New York City to Paris in 1908. Every automobile maker in the world wanted to participate in this next-to-impossible race, so there was a vast number of entries. The Thomas Flyer raced across the U.S., Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Asia, and Europe, and after 16 months of travel over 16,000 miles, it arrived first at the finish line in Paris.


Forest Lawn Cemetery, Section 26



Special thanks to Cindy Gorski and Margaret Logan for sharing their research

Photos and their arrangement  2017 Chuck LaChiusa
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