John William Lambert

A horseless carriage was a dream of many American automotive pioneers ever since Karl Benz built an automobile in Germany. Growing up on a small farm in Ohio, John William Lambert became interested in cars when he was sixteen years old and his family moved to the Van Wert County.

Gasoline engines fascinated the young man, whose father supported his curiosity. The landmark moment happened when his father took John to see a gasoline engine in a tannery nearby. As luck would have it, the very same tannery burned out in a fire the night before.

John William Lambert was greatly disappointed but still searched the debris for anything interesting. To his surprise he found a burned slide valve coal gas engine, which was mostly intact.

Lambert disassembled it and closely studied every construction detail that he could. After a while, they established a family business of fork handles and wagon spokes manufacturing.

Business was well for the J. W. Lambert and Company, since other investments such as their agricultural implement store, grain elevator and a lumber yard provided a steady income. John always looked for ways to increase his profits and he bought numerous significant town properties. When John B. Hicks applied for a patent on a stationary gasoline engine in 1890, John Lambert saw an opportunity to follow up his early interest of making a horseless carriage.

Hicks introduced John with a German engineer Wacholtz, whom he hired to design a light car engine prototype. Their agreement was a rather simple one, because Lambert acquired a license to manufacture improved gas engines for the use only on land vehicles other than railway transportation.

Wacholtz began his work on a three cylinder motor prototype, following Lambert's vision. Lowell Machine Works in Cleveland, Ohio became the center of production and ultimately model design. John Lambert used his impressive income to pay for all engine development expenses. The original investment grew from $200 to a substantial $3,300.

Lambert realized that Wacholtz won't be able to produce a light gasoline engine and stopped the development process. He switched everything to his small machine shop back in Ohio City, continuing to personally improve the work there.

A prototype was designed like a tricycle, with two clutches and two chains. The front wheel was used for steering by coordinating a foot and a hand lever. Inspired by Gottlieb Daimler engine used in boats, John developed a simple carburetor called the vaporizer. This was the last piece in the secret crafting of Lambert's automobile. All operational tests were performed in closed areas or during the night.

In 1891 everything was finally ready and John designed sales brochures for his horseless carriage. This fascinating man was well ahead of his time. Ordinary people just couldn't realize the automobile potential and not a single unit was sold.

Disappointed by the failure, John decided sold his innovation and returned to a more classical business. He remains remembered for 600 different patents during his career, most importantly a patent of the first United States gasoline engine in 1887. As a tribute to his life and work, Ohio City holds an annual three day event called Lambert Days, including a car show, art festival, numerous sporting events and naturally, display of an early Lambert automobile.

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