Pierce Arrow | Cartype

The Pierce-Arrow was a Buffalo, New York (United States) based manufacturing company from 1901 to 1938. Pierce-Arrow is best known for their expensive luxury automobiles; they also manufactured commercial motor trucks, fire trucks, and bicycles.

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Pierce Arrow emblem. (source: R Gust Smith)

The ancestor of Pierce-Arrow was the George N. Pierce Company, founded by George N. Pierce (1846-1910) of Buffalo, New York, which various products including bicycles and bird-cages. In 1901, he started the George N. Pierce Motor Company, producing a small single-cylinder runabout under license from de Dion-Bouton, the Pierce, with some modest success. He sold the business in 1907

In 1903 he decided to concentrate on making a larger more luxurious auto for the upscale market, and the Pierce Arrow was born. This proved Pierce’s most successful product, and these solidly built cars with powerful engines gained much positive publicity by winning various auto races. During this period, Pierce’s high-end products were sometimes advertised as the Great Arrow. In 1908 Pierce Motor was renamed The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.

In 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrows to be used for state occasions, the first official automobiles of the White House. An open bodied Pierce-Arrow carried Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding to Harding’s 1921 inaugural.

In 1914, Pierce-Arrow adopted its most enduring styling hallmark when the headlights of the vehicle were moved from the traditional placement to either side of the radiator into flared housings molded into the front fenders of the car. This gave the car an immediate visual identification from the side; at night it gave the car the appearance a widen stance. Pierce trademarked this placement and it remained in place until final model in 1938. Hence it is only beginning with the 1939 model year that other American car manufacturers put the headlights in the fenders. Through 1914 Pierce-Arrow also produced a line of motorcycles.

The Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many top Hollywood stars, corporate tycoons; royalty of many foreign nations had at least one Pierce-Arrow in their collections. In American luxury cars it was rivaled only by the Peerless and Packard, which collectively received the accolade Three P’s of Motordom. Industrial efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth (Cheaper by the Dozen) extolled the virtues of Pierce-Arrow, in both quality and in its ability to safely transport his large family.

Pierce-Arrow advertisements were artistic and understated. Unusually for automobile advertising, the image of the car was in the background rather than the foreground of the picture. Usually only a portion of the automobile was visible. The Pierce-Arrow was always depicted in elegant settings.

In 1928, Studebaker acquired a controlling interest in Pierce-Arrow. Studebaker’s President, Alfred Erskine had hoped that adding the prestigious product would allow Studebaker to compete with the likes of Packard and Cadillac for a portion of the luxury car market. Under Studebaker?s ownership, Pierce maintained virtual autonomy over its product and product development. Approaching bankruptcy in 1933, Studebaker sold out their interest in Pierce-Arrow to a group of Buffalo businessmen after the South Bend, Indiana automobile company was placed under receivership.

In 1933, the company unveiled the radically streamlined Silver Arrow at the New York Auto Show; the car was well received by the public and the motoring press. The car was announced with the phrase “Suddenly it’s 1940!” and Pierce sold five examples of this car priced at $10,000 dollars apiece. The company subsequently issued a production model named “Silver Arrow”, however it failed to incorporate many of the features of the show car and failed to generate sufficient sales for the company.

Starting in 1936 Pierce-Arrow produced a line of camper-trailers, the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge. Pierce was the only luxury brand that did not field a lower price car (eg Packard 110) 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 firms Chief Engineer, from parts secured from the companies receivers. Pierce’s holding were sold at auction on Friday, May 13, 1938.

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, based on their waddling motion and honking horn. All still survive.

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Pierce Arrow Society crest.

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1919 Pierce Arrow radiator emblem.

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Pierce-Arrow cars on exhibit during the 1909 Chicago Auto Show at the Coliseum and First Regiment Armory in Chicago, Illinois. (source: National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library.)

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Pierce-Arrow Motor Company display of trophy cups in glass case during the 1909 Chicago Auto Show at the Coliseum and First Regiment Armory in Chicago, Illinois. Front of case is decorated with flowers, palms and rocks. (source: National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library.)

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1906 Pierce-Arrow Elmwood Avenue factory in Buffalo, NY. (source: National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library.)

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Pierce Arrow service station in Buffalo, New York (1914).

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