When Henry Ford first started manufacturing automobiles in 1903, there was a man in North Dakota who also was producing self-propelled vehicles.
At least five years earlier, Samuel Holland, a Park River blacksmith, had manufactured a high-wheel vehicle with a steam engine. For the next 10 years, Holland built several types of vehicles with two, three and four wheels, most of which had gasoline engines.
Holland was born in Norway on April 26, 1859.
He immigrated to the United States in the 1870s and found work in a St. Paul, Minn., foundry.
Later, Holland set up a business making clocks in southern Minnesota.
In 1888, a year before statehood, he moved to Park River in northern Dakota Territory.
It was there that he established his blacksmith shop and quickly earned a reputation as a genius of steam-powered machinery.
Unlike Ford, Holland did not make a fortune with his automobiles. Most of his money was made repairing steam boilers.
Excitement filled the Red River Valley in the summer of 1897 when the first automobile, a German-made Benz Velo, made appearances in Grand Forks and Fargo.
Holland came out with his steam-powered vehicle the next year. It had wooden carriage wheels and was steered with a long stick located in front of the driver.
Despite the satisfaction of constructing a self-propelled vehicle, Holland soon realized that gasoline engines were the way of the future. The first gasoline-powered automobile was made by George D. Brown of Fargo toward the end of 1899.
However, it did not run very well.
Early in 1900, O. A. Beeman purchased a gasoline engine in the state of Michigan, which he had shipped back to his home in Valley City.
He mounted it on a body and, in the month of May, drove it to Fargo and charged 25 cents per passenger for rides.
Before tackling a full-size gasoline-powered vehicle, Holland experimented by putting a gasoline engine on an adult-sized tricycle.
In 1903, Holland began work on the first of his models which he called the "Holland Special."
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Most of his "Specials" were built by hand in his blacksmith shop. He ordered many parts in rough casting, which were machined by him and his staff.
In June 1904, he finished his six-horsepower car with cushion tires, bar-spring suspension, clutch and brake foot pads and two radiators.
The engine and emergency brake were located behind the driver, the water pump and gasoline tank were under the driver's seat and the crank was on the side of the car.
Like Holland's steam-powered car it was maneuvered by a tiller bar in front of the driver.
The car had a single spark plug that was fitted securely to the engine block. The engine was lubricated by a series of spigots that dripped oil at various locations on the chassis.
Historians report that Holland was the first person from North Dakota to build a successful automobile, including construction of the engine.
Nearly 50 different North Dakotans made automobiles prior to World War I, but most of those consisted of mounting a preexisting engine on the chassis of a carriage.
Holland also was the most productive of the early North Dakota car manufacturers.
There is considerable conjecture as to the number of vehicles actually built by Holland.
Some historians believe that a couple of the cars attributed to Holland were actually made by a company out of Indiana.
Holland had a very inventive mind and actually patented an automobile timer.
He also was practical, realizing the efforts at making automobiles were losing money for him and his family of nine children.
He quit making cars in 1909 and became an agent for other automobile companies.
In 1916, he closed his shop-dealership in Park River and began farming near Roseau, Minnesota. Holland died in 1937.
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen. Reach the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@;-cableone.net)