Good References – Links to John Lambert on the Internet

Ohio Automotive Heritage (TM)


John W. Lambert circa 1909
Over the years, Ohio was home to over 100 different automobile manufactures, with over 50 different automobiles built in Cleveland alone. Ohio also has a strong claim for being the true home of America’s first gasoline powered automobile. In 1891 John W. Lambert of Union City, Ohio built and successfully drove a 3-wheeled automobile. While the Duryea brothers are recognized by the Smithsonian as being the first to build an automobile in the United States, it’s hard to overlook Lambert’s previous effort in the Buckeye state. Later Lambert would move to Indiana where he built his friction drive cars until 1918. Lambert products included cars, trucks, fire engines, and tractors. During World War 1 the company converted its factory for national defense, among other things producing artillery shells. There is much more to the history of the Lambert automobile, and The Center for Automotive History will soon retell its true story complete with newly discovered information, photos, and details. J.W. Lambert – father of Ohio’s first automobile.

Picture1906 Lambert Touring Car

It doesn’t look like much too much is going on in downtown Amherst, Ohio on a long ago sunny summer’s day. Never the less the proud owner of a brand new 1906 Lambert Touring Car has strategically parked his prized new ride for all to see.The Lambert automobile story begins in Union City, Ohio, a town that literally straddles the Ohio Indiana state line. In fact, the town is divided by an aptly name thoroughfare, the Ohio-Indiana State Line Road. This somewhat spilt personality led to an interesting problem for Union City in the years Indiana did not observe Daylight Savings Time. You could literally have one foot in one time zone and the other foot in another time zone without leaving town! The Lambert automobile story shifts to Indiana and will be continued in the Center’s Indiana Automotive Heritage Series (TM).

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The 1891 Lambert Automobile & The Buckeye Mfg. Co.

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1891 Lambert
The Buckeye Mfg. Co.
Ohio City, Ohio

John William Lambert made a three wheeled car in Ohio City, Ohio in 1891. This car is generally considered the first gasoline powered American Automobile made in the United States. John Lambert’s interest in automobiles began in 1875 when his father George Lambert who was a farmer took him to a tannery to see an Otto gas engine that ran without a boiler.

Steam powered engines were very popular and well known in the late 1800’s, but gasoline engine were only experimental. The gas engine lingered in John Lambert’s mind and he made many plans for steam and gas driven wagons. In 1891 at the age of only 30, John Lambert began construction of a gasoline powered automobile. Lambert designed a three cylinder horizontal four cycle water cooled engine that operated on gasoline.


1891 Lambert Three Wheeler
1891 Lambert Three Wheeler
The final drive to the rear wheels was by two chains to a counter shaft. A friction clutch selection with chain to a solid axle had two speeds forward and no reverse.

Lambert’s tricycle had a single front wheel that was steered by a double foot tiller. A hand tiller was added at a later date. America’s first gasoline powered automobile weighed in at only 585 pounds, had wooden wheels and steel tires. The carburetor was patented by John W. Lambert in 1902.

The Lambert three wheeler was on the road by 1902, ran well and was considered a great sucess. The tricycle cost Lambert $3200.00 to build and he had several offers to purchase America’s first Automobile.


Automobile building was not at once begun by John Lambert. Lambert began builting gas engines in 1893 as the Buckeye Mfg Company with a factory at Anderson, IN. Over 6,000 Lambert gas engines were made and sold up to 1905. Later these engines were produced by the Lambert Gas and Gasoline Engine Company also located in Anderson, IN.


1902 Union Automobile
1902 Union Automobile
1912 Lambert Touring Car
1912 Lambert Touring Car


In 1902 John W. Lambert produced his first mass produced American Automobile in Union, IN. Called the Union this automobile was assembled in Union, IN from components made in Anderson, IN by The Buckeye Mfg Company.

In 1905 all production moved to Anderson where it gave way to new models carrying John Lamberts own name. The very first Lambert automobiles were sold on June 1, 1905. By 1906 a wide variety of chain driven automobiles were made, all with a efficient Friction Drive.

1908 Lambert Buckeye Mfg. Co. Anderson, IN
1908 Lambert – Buckeye Mfg. Co. Anderson, IN

photo gallery:

Fulton, Missouri

This 1909 Lambert Model A1 is a four passenger, Surrey version with a 2 cylinder engine that developed 20 Hp. It sits on a shorter, 95 inch wheelbase and had a factory price of $875.

In 1906, the Union was phased out and Lambert introduced the first of a very successful line called the Lambert. The 2 cylinder Lamberts were virtually the Union renamed but he also marketed a 5 passenger Tonneau body Model7/8 that featured a four cylinder, 34 hp, engine, on a 98 inch wheel base, with friction speed change and bevel gear drive to a divided rear axle. The price for the Model 8 including mats, horn, tools and five lamps was $3000.

Still wanting to market a successful car, Lambert built another car in 1898 but it, too, failed to be manufactured. Finally, in 1902, he formed the Union Automobile Company to produce his gearless, friction-drive, rear-engine automobile. Completing his design in 1897, Lambert pioneered the friction-drive transmission.  The friction-drive transmission would be the feature of all of Lambert’s cars. This car was the Union

In 1891, when he test-drove his self-designed, three-wheeled, surrey-topped, gasoline-powered runabout, John Lambert was the owner of a grain elevator, lumber yard and hardware store in Ohio City. Despite the mechanical success, the car was a marketing failure. Priced at $550, no one bought his vehicle. Feeling discouraged, Lambert then turned his attention to the manufacture of stationary gasoline engines, organizing the Buckeye Manufacturing Company, in Anderson, IN for that purpose.

1909 Lambert Model A

Vintage Car Talk
Feb 22, 2013
Dave Walter
Comments Off on History Lesson: Who Built the first American Car?

History Lesson: Who Built the first American Car?

Nope, not Henry Ford. He invented the assembly line.

If you’re into classic cars, you might be tempted to say that it was the Duryea brothers, but that’s wrong too. The first working car to be designed and constructed in America was built by a man named John Lambert, all the way back in 1891.

13 years earlier, John’s father had taken him to see an Otto Stationary Engine that was being used by a tannery several towns away. Upon learning of the European Otto internal combustion engines, John had become fascinated with all things mechanical. Otto engines were massive things used mostly used by factories, and they ran on coal oil, which was a common fuel used for street lamps and heating.

Unfortunately for John, the factory had burned to the ground the night before their arrival. But that didn’t stop young Mr. Lambert’s curiosity. He sifted through the wreckage to find that huge Otto engine, then he disassembled it to learn how it worked.

Years later, he wound up owning most of Ohio City, Ohio, including the town opera house, the feed store, a grain elevator, and the lumber yard. Needless to say, he had amassed the money to indulge his passions. The 1888 Benz Patent Motorwagen had reminded him of that charred Otto engine, so he finally decided to build a horseless carriage of his own.

Using his wealth and connections, Lambert discovered that a man named John Hicks had applied for a patent on an internal combustion engine that ran on gasoline. At the time, gasoline was just a byproduct of coal gas, and was sold by pharmacies as a household cleaner. The nearest pharmacy to Ohio City that sold it was far away in Cleveland, so much of the initial development was done there.

The engine and body of the car were then shipped back to a machine shop that Lambert owned in Ohio City. Under the cover of night, Lambert’s team got the car running, and road tested it through the streets. When it was finally complete, the Buckeye Gasoline Buggy cost Lambert the modern equivalent of $90,000 to develop.

Although it was a good design, nobody in the rural state of Ohio had even heard of a gas-powered automobile in 1890, and not one single copy of Lambert’s car was ever sold.

Three years later, the Duryea brother’s 1893 Ladies Pheaton became the country’s first commercially viable motorcar. Henry Ford invented the assembly line in 1908, effectively crowning himself king of the car business. And John Lambert? Well, he sold his town and moved to Indiana where he started the Union Automobile Company. Over 300 Union cars were sold between 1902-1905. The name of the company was then changed to Lambert, and the company remained in business until 1916.


John Lambert, owner of a lumber yard, grain elevator, and hardware store in Ohio City, Ohio,   made what is recognized as the first gasoline model automobile in this country in 1890. He tested it for some time before he had made sales brochures in 1891 showing it with a price tag of $550. With no sales forth coming, he decided to build stationary gasoline engines at his Buckeye Mfg. Company Co. in Anderson, IN.

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John Lambert’s 1891 Buckeye Gasoline Buggy, Actual Photograph

Once again in 1895, he announced that he was entering into production of his 1891 model, but he never did. He devised a friction transmisssion that he used in all of his cars. His next car was a four wheel model in 1898, but he did not put it into production.

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1902 Union Runabout

However,   in 1902, he introduced his Union automobile that was made in Union City, IN. Most of the components were made in his Buckeye factory in Anderson and in 1905, he moved his production to Anderson.  The 1905 models were renamed to Lambert.

The pictures below were cut from the 1905 September Horseless Age Magazine

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1906 Lambert Touring

The 1906 Lambert models were totally redesigned.

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1906 Lambert Runabout

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1906 Lambert Delivery Wagon

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1906 Lambert Automobile Advertisement

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1910 Lambert Touring

From 1906 through 1915, the company made an average of two hundred a year. In 1916, the number dropped to one hundred and in 1917, the company entered the war effort and never made any cars after that.


  • [​IMG]
    1902 Union runabout, thanks to Royal Feltner’s great site.

    In 1902 the Union automobile came upon the scene, and with only 60 cars built the first season, it was the eighth best-selling car in the country!

    How’s that possible? Well, the Union had an advantage, in that it was a “new” four-wheel make from John Lambert who had been successfully building three-wheel gas buggies since 1891. (BTW, Union production was about a third of that of either Packard or Stanley in ’02.) Made in Union City and, next, Anerderson, IN, the Union was inexpensive and used only two cylinders. By 1905 when Lambert stopped building the Union, only about 300 were made in all, making the Union quite a rare car.

    Remember, EVERYBODY LOVES A DARE, right??? SO, can anybody find evidence (preferably a pic, too) that a Union car survives today?

    [​IMG]And just for the fun of it, here’s a reprise
    look at Lambert’s first, humble three-
    wheeler from 1891 !!!

    1902 Lambert (not so very different from the Union, eh?)

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    This advertisement is with sincere THANKS to!

    The reason for this ad is to show that the Union (and the Later Lambert for that matter) was not just another horseless carriage. If you read the ad carefully, the car starts “from the seat.” Gotta wonder how that worked.

    More importantly, though, the Union was the first application of the continuously variable transmission, or CVT, later made fairly famous in Byron Carter’s CarterCar. The Metz and the Petrel also used a CVT, but Carter was the most successful — so successful, in fact, that Billy Durant bought CarterCar out after Byron Carter’s tragic death.

    Lambert himself first used the CVT in 1902 in the Union, though his patent didn’t come through until ’04. For a detailed explanation of HOW the CVT worked (and still does) — and in layman’s terms, you can search:

    Cartercar – tracing the origins of the CVT transmission
    History of the automobile: (Although this is not a picture of John, the rest is accurate)
    4. John LambertAmerica’s first gasoline-powered automobile was a three-wheel motor buggy – the 1891 Lambert car invented by John Lambert.Later, after seeing the 1895 Times-Herald race, John Lambert went on to produce four-wheel vehicles at his Buckeye Manufacturing plant. John Lambert was a very successful and prosperous businessman in Ohio City, who successfully tested and drove a three-wheeled, surrey-topped, gasoline-powered runabout of his own design.

    First Gasoline Powered Car

    It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without cars. Commuting to the grocery store or work would be almost impossible. Books-on-tape would be non-existent. Most importantly, what kind of conversations would you be able to have with strangers if you weren’t able to talk about those high gas prices. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that as Ohio City resident, John W. Lambert built the first gasoline powered car in America. In 1890, Lambert attached a single cylinder engine to a buggy chassis with two rear wheels and a single wheel removed from a wheel barrow for the front. The vehicle could reach lightning speeds up to 5 miles per hour. There were also 2 speeds forward, however the model was unable to go in reverse. The vehicle had an initial price tag of $550 (approx.$14,000 in today’s dollar), however Lambert was not able to sell a single one. This was probably fortunate for him, because the first model cost $3,200 to construct ($2,650 more than the selling price). While the gasoline powered vehicle proved to be very successful, the design itself was extremely hazardous. The two large wheels in the back and one small wheel in front turned out to be unbalanced. In 1891, the vehicle lost control, hit a tree root, and crashed into a post. Luckily for Lambert, the injuries were minor. However, this moment became the first recorded automobile accident in history.


    Lambert Days 2013 includes fireworks

    DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

    Members of the Lambert family drive an antique Lambert automobile in the 2012 Lambert Days Parade. (VW independent file photo)

    OHIO CITY — Those anticipating this year’s Lambert Days celebration in Ohio City have only one more day to wait until festivities begin.

    The annual festival honors former Ohio City resident John W. Lambert, an American automotive pioneer, inventor and automobile manufacturer. According to automobile historians, the Buckeye gasoline buggy, or Lambert gasoline buggy, was the first practical gasoline automobile available for sale in America. Lambert made America’s first such automobile in 1891, according to an extensive study by auto historian L. Scott Bailey.

    Lambert successfully tested his “horseless carriage” in January 1891 inside an 80-foot-long farm implement showroom he owned in Ohio City. The three-wheel surrey-top automobile had a single-cylinder, four-stroke engine and had large rear wheels. It seated just one person.

    Legend also has it that Lambert was involved in the first automobile accident in America when he crashed his new vehicle while driving it in Ohio City.

    Organizers say this year’s Lambert Days event is bigger than ever, with a fireworks show planned on top of softball and Wiffleball tournaments, live bands, the annual Lambert Days Parade and a display of antique Lambert cars.

    John W. Lambert

    The festival unofficially begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with the Lambert Days Pageant. 2012 Lambert Days Queen Abbi Marbaugh will be on hand to crown her successor, who will also receive a cash prize of $200. Lambert Days princesses will compete for a $50 prize. Cake and ice cream will follow the pageant.

    Other Lambert Days events include a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament, Monte Carlo Night, kids’ games, a Wiffleball Home Run Derby and tournament, a show by ATV daredevil Henry “the Pit Bull” Rife, a flea market and craft show, a softball tourney, Bingo, a hog roast dinner, and cornhole tournament.

    The festival officially begins at 5 p.m. Friday, July 19, with a flag-raising ceremony conducted by Harvey Lewis Post 346 of the American Legion. A steak dinner will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, while kids games will begin at 5 that evening, along with the Wiffleball Home Run Derby at 5:30 p.m. The Texas Hold ‘Em tourney begins at 7 p.m., while judging of autos in the Lambert Days Cruise-In will start at 8 that evening. Henry Rife’s ATV daredevil show will start at 9 p.m., while Bad Attitude will also perform, starting at 9.

    The fireworks show is slated to begin at 10:15 p.m. Friday, while kids can see a movie under the stars, starting at dusk.

    Saturday’s activities include a men’s slo-pitch softball tournament, starting at 8 a.m., a coed volleyball tourney, starting at 9 a.m., and the Wiffleball tourney, which begins at 10 Saturday morning.

    Kids’ games open at 11 a.m., while registration for the cornhole tournament begins at noon, with the tourney starting at 1 that afternoon. A hog roast dinner will start at 4 p.m. Saturday, while Bingo runs from 5-8 p.m. A dance featuring the popular area group Boomswang will start at 9 p.m., and kids can view a movie under the stars, starting at dusk.

    On Sunday, activities include a flea market, gift baskets and a raffle, and community garage sales. The softball tourney continues, starting at 9 a.m., while a chicken barbecue (carryout available) will begin at 11 that morning, with easy listening provided by Triad.

    Kids’ games open at noon, with registration and lineup for the Lambert Days Parade starting at 1:45 p.m. The parade will begin at 4 p.m., with judging at the Community Building, along with a number of prize drawings (click here for a Lambert Days brochure).

    POSTED: 07/17/13 at 7:52 am. FILED UNDER: News

    Buckeye Manufacturing Company


    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Buckeye Manufacturing Company, 1908
    Buckeye Manufacturing Company, 1908

    The Buckeye Manufacturing Company was a company originally formed to manufacture horse and buggy parts. It was started in the later part of the nineteenth century and by the early part of the twentieth century was making parts and materials for the Buckeye gasoline buggy automobile as well as for the Union automobile and the Lambert automobile.[1][2] The company was organized in 1884 in Union City, Ohio, originally under the name of Lambert Brothers and Company.[3] One of the subsidiaries was the Pioneer Pole and Shaft Company, which was run by George A. Lambert, the son of John W. Lambert.[4] Other subsidiaries were the Union Automobile Company, Lambert Automobile Company, and the Lambert Gas and Gasoline Engine Company—run by John W. Lambert.[5][6][7][8]

    There is more on this link above including more links.


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  1. Jim Bretz says:

    If you completely read the book SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN by John Lambert’s Great Granddaughter you will discover the Union Automobile was manufactured in Union City, OHIO, not Indiana. During that period Ohio addresses were required to use the Indiana postmark because the post office was across the line in Indiana. It is really hard to revise historical writer’s comments. I live in George A. Lambert’s house which he built then.

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