Encyclopedia Of Detroit

King, Charles Brady

Charles Brady King was the first to drive an automobile on the streets of Detroit. King was born February 2, 1868 in California to General John King of Sackets Harbor, New York and Matilda Davenport King of Detroit, Michigan. When his father retired from the Army in 1882 the family moved to Detroit. King studied engineering at Cornell University, until the death of his father in 1888, when he returned to Detroit. His first full-time job in the city was as a draftsman at the Michigan Car Company.

In 1893, King had a display at the Chicago World’s Fair for his pneumatic hammer and brake beam for railroad cars. While there he saw the self-propelled carriage designed and built by Gottlieb Daimler, inspiring him to begin designing his own car in Detroit. On March 6th, 1896, he test drove the first self-propelled carriage along Woodward Avenue and reached speeds up to five miles per hour.

In 1902, King joined the Northern Manufacturing Company and a year later became their chief engineer. While there, he designed an automobile that had the first integrated motor and transmission assembly. After a hiatus in Europe for two years, to learn more about automobile styling, King founded his own company in 1910, the King Motor Car Company, in a rented building on West Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The company was the first automaker to build cars with left-handed steering, and to make a successful and practical V-8 engine. His car, the “Eight,” was the only vehicle at the 1912 New York Auto Show to have left-hand steering. King left the company in 1912, but still retained 64 patents, including the jackhammer, the lubricated pulley system, and the car steering gear. 

Described by some as a Renaissance man, King could count poet, architect, painter, musician and yachtsman among his titles. He continued to experiment and invent on his own, and in 1939 founded the Automobile Old Timers, which became the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan.

King’s horseless carriage was on the streets and sold before Henry Ford’s Quadricycle, which King helped Ford build. Without the efforts of Charles Brady King, Detroit may never have been known as the Motor City. He died June 22, 1957 in Rye, N.Y. His papers are in the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library.



Charles B. King & Oliver E. Barthel sitting in King's automobile - 2013.048.691


Autographed photo portrait of Charles B. King - 1950.164.021

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