Frederick Douglass Patterson was born in 1871. During his childhood, his father became the sole owner of the C. R. Patterson and Sons Carriage Company of Greenfield, Ohio. After attending college and spending a couple of years as a teacher, Patterson joined this company. He took charge of the business following his father’s death in 1910.
When Patterson began to spot “funny-looking horseless carriages” while traveling on business, he was savvy enough to realize his company needed to diversify. In the fall of 1915 the Patterson-Greenfield two-door coupe made its debut, making Patterson the first African-American car manufacturer. He would also produce a four-door touring car.
Patterson’s company was building automobiles at the same time Henry Fordwas making Model Ts — and some considered Patterson’s vehicles to be a more impressive feat of engineering than Ford’s. However, Patterson couldn’t compete with the efficiencies of the Detroit assembly line and in 1919 the company stopped making cars. A switch to building the bodies of school buses and trucks let the business continue, but the Great Depression made things more difficult. After Patterson’s 1932 death, the company held on for a few years before shutting down in 1939.