Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company

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The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was an American motor vehicle manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, which was active from 1901 to 1938. Although best known for its expensive luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also manufactured commercial trucks, fire trucks, camp trailers, motorcycles, and bicycles.[1]

1901 (as auto manufacturer)
FounderGeorge N. Pierce
United States
ProductsMotor vehicles
Automotive parts

Early historyEdit

The forerunner of Pierce-Arrow was established in 1865 as Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer. The company was best known for its household items, especially its delicate, gilded birdcages.[2] In 1872, George Norman Pierce (1846–1910)[3] bought out the other two principals of the company, changed the name to the George N. Pierce Company, and in 1896 added bicycles to the product line. The company failed in its attempt to build a steam-powered car in 1900 under license from Overman, but by 1901, had built its first single-cylinder, two-speed, no-reverse Motorette.[4] In 1903, it produced a two-cylinder car, the Arrow.

In 1904, Pierce decided to concentrate on making a larger, more luxurious car for the upscale market, the Great Arrow. This became the company's most successful product. The solidly built, four-cylinder car won the Glidden Tour in 1905, an endurance run to determine and celebrate the most reliable car. Thirty-three cars entered the 350-mile race from New York City to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire; the race was won by Percy Pierce in a Great Arrow.[5]

The noted industrial architect Albert Kahn designed the Pierce Arrow Factory Complex at Elmwood Avenue and Great Arrow Avenue in about 1906. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[6] George Pierce sold all rights in the company in 1907, and he died three years later. In 1908, Pierce Motor Company was renamed as the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.

Hood ornament of a 1919 roadster

In 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrows (and two White Model M Tourers) to be used for state occasions, the first official cars of the White House.

The Pierce-Arrow's engine displacement started at a massive 11.7 L and was increased later to 13.5 L, at the time making it by far the largest engine offered in any production automobile in the world.[7] In 1910, Pierce dropped its other 4-cylinder models and focused exclusively on 6-cylinder cars. The model 6-36, 6-48, and 6-66 continued for the next decade.[8] Starting in 1918, Pierce-Arrow adopted a four-valve per cylinder T-head inline-six engine (Dual Valve Six), one of the few, if only, multi-valve flathead design engines ever made.

In 1910, George Pierce died. In 1912, Herbert M. Dawley (later a Broadway actor-director) joined Pierce-Arrow, and he designed almost every model until 1938.[9] Until 1914, Pierce-Arrow also made a line of motorcycles, including the Pierce Four.

1919 Pierce-Arrow advertisement; ads for the cars in early years were understated and artistic, and did not discuss details about the cars.

In 1914, Pierce-Arrow adopted its most enduring styling hallmark when its headlights were moved from a traditional placement at the radiator's sides, into flared housings molded into the front fenders of the car. This gave the car an immediately visible distinction in front or side views. At night, the car appeared to have a wider stance. Pierce patented this placement, which endured until the final model of 1938, although Pierce always offered customers the option of conventional headlamps; only a minority ordered this option.

The Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many Hollywood stars and tycoons. Most of the royalty of the world had at least one Pierce-Arrow in its collection. Some have described Pierce and two of its rivals among American luxury cars, Peerless and Packard, as the "Three P's of Motordom."[10] Industrial efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth[11] extolled the virtues of Pierce-Arrow, in both quality and in its ability to safely transport his large family. Its wheelbase was 12 ft 3 in (3.73 m). The transmission was a four speed manual in 1919.[12] Actor Sessue Hayakawa (famed for his role in Bridge on the River Kwai) drove a custom-ordered gold-plated Pierce-Arrow.[13] A restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow is on display at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. An open-bodied Pierce-Arrow carried Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding to Harding's 1921 inauguration.

Pierce-Arrow advertisements were artistic and understated. Unusual for car advertising, the image of the car was in the background rather than the foreground of the picture. Usually, only part of the car was visible. The Pierce-Arrow was typically depicted in elegant and fashionable settings. Some advertisements featured the car in places a car would not normally go, such as the West and other rural settings, a testament to the car's ruggedness and quality.

Several second-hand Pierce-Arrow cars were bought by fire departments, stripped down to the chassis and engine, the wheelbase lengthened, and built back into fire engines. Some of these fire engines were in service for up to 20 years.[7]


In 1928, the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, gained control of the Buffalo firm. The association was to last for five years, with moderate benefits to both companies' engineering departments, which continued to function as separate entities.[14] Pierce-Arrow also gained a dealer network, as the cars were sold through Studebaker dealerships. Under Studebaker's ownership, Pierce-Arrow retired the venerable 6-cylinder engine and in 1929 introduced an L-head straight-eight engine, which displaced 366 cubic inches.[15]

1933 Silver Arrow and the end of the lineEdit

In 1933, Pierce-Arrow unveiled the radically streamlined Silver Arrow in a final attempt to appeal to the wealthy at the New York Auto Show. The car was well received by the public and the motoring press, being announced with the slogan "Suddenly it's 1940!" Pierce sold five examples but, since it was priced at $10,000 during the worst of the Depression, the rich were hesitant to spend so much. The bodies were built at Studebaker,[14] which subsequently assisted in rolling out a lower-priced production model. This, however, lacked many luxury features of the show car and still failed to generate enough sales.

Starting in 1936, Pierce-Arrow produced a line of camper-trailers, the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge. They also produced a new V-12 sedan that was redesigned and considered the safest and most luxurious sedan of its day.

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad converted five Pierce-Arrow automobiles (and a couple of Buicks) into motorized railcars, effectively buses and trucks on rail wheels. The nickname Galloping Goose was soon applied to these vehicles, reportedly based on their waddling motion and honking horn. Most of these conversions still survive.

Pierce was the only luxury brand that did not field a lower-priced car (e.g., the Packard 120) to provide cash flow, and without sales or funds for development, the company declared insolvency in 1938 and closed its doors. The final Pierce-Arrow assembled was built by Karl Wise, the firm's chief engineer, from parts secured from the company's receivers. Pierce's remaining assets (which probably would include the forty Arrows made in October 1938) were sold at auction on a Friday, May 13, 1938.

The factory equipment used to make Pierce-Arrow V-12 engines was bought by Seagrave Fire Apparatus, which used it to make engines for fire engines.[7]

Recent use of the nameEdit

In 2006, a group of classic car enthusiasts from Switzerland applied the name to a 10 L, 24-cylinder car designed by Luigi Colani.[16] According to their (defunct) website, the company intended to revive the Pierce-Arrow car in the form of a Pierce Silver Arrow II.

As of January 12, 2015, the brand is registered to SpinTek Filtration, with the classification for "automobiles; apparatus for locomotion by land, air, or water including motors, engines, couplings, and transmission components." [17]


A 1911 Pierce-Arrow advertisement, Syracuse Post-Standard, 18 March 1910
A 1912 Pierce-Arrow advertisement, Syracuse Journal, 12 April 1910


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. History: Bicycles, Motorcycles, & Trucks". The Pierce-Arrow Society. Retrieved 5 June 2011. When the company split in 1906, the Pierce Cycle Company was formed and the nameplate changed accordingly.
  2. ^ Leno, Jay (1 May 2017). "My Pierce-Arrow: A Class Act". Autoweek. 67 (9): 4–5. ISSN 0192-9674.
  3. ^ "George Norman Pierce". Find A Grave.
  4. ^ "The Early Years:1903 Pierce Motorette". The Pierce-Arrow Society. Retrieved 3 July 2017. Motorette image
  5. ^ "The Glidden Tour Years". Pierce-Arrow Motor Car History. The Pierce-Arrow Society. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 13 March 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Fire Engines & Fire Fighting, by David Burgess-Wise, first publ. 1977 by Octopus Books Ltd, ISBN 0-7064-0613-3.
  8. ^ Vaughan, Daniel (October 2007). "1910 Pierce-Arrow Model 66". Conceptcarz.com. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  9. ^ Georgano, G. N. Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886–1930. (London: Grange-Universal, 1985)
  10. ^ Wilson, Kevin A. "15 Cars That Couldn't Save Their Brand". Popular Mechanics. p. 1. Retrieved 23 March 2014. Pierce-Arrow, founded in 1901, once ranked with Detroit's Packard and Cleveland's Peerless as the Three P's of Motordom
  11. ^ In Cheaper by the Dozen
  12. ^ "1919 brochure". oldcarbrochures.org. Archived from the original on 1 July 2016.
  13. ^ Miyao, Daisuke (7 March 2007). Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom (paperback). Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-3969-4. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  14. ^ a b Hendry, Maurice M. Studebaker: One can do a lot of remembering in South Bend. New Albany: Automobile Quarterly]. pp. 228–275. Vol X, 3rd Q, 1972.
  15. ^ Woodcock, Glen. "Pierce-Arrow perfection". www.autonet.ca. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
  16. ^ "Pierce-Arrow Holding AG". piercearrow-corp.com. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  17. ^ "PIERCE-ARROW Trademark Information". trademarkia.com. Retrieved 8 August 2019.

External linksEdit