Western New York Heritage

E. R. Thomas Motor Company 1903 - 1911

Thomas Motor Company Complex, 1200 Niagara Street, c. 1906. Image source: private collection.

Edwin Ross Thomas (1851-1936) was a Buffalonian who began his career as a bicycle manufacturer just as the gasoline-engine era began. In the space of a few years he moved from bicycle manufacturing to making motorcycles, to building a 1-cylinder automobile in 1899.

2006 Google Earth photo of the Thomas plant today, now owned by Rich Products.

2006 Street-level view of the former Thomas plant, 1200 Niagara Street. Now owned by Rich Products.

In his large complex on Niagara Street, Thomas began building expensive, high-powered automobiles he called the "Thomas Flyer." His main competitor was contemporary entrepreneur George Pierce, who built the Pierce-Arrow automobile.

2006 Front entrance showing inset "E.R.Thomas."

The Thomas Flyer made its claim to fame when its 1907 model 35 was entered at the last moment in the 1908 New York to Paris Race. The 4-cylinder, 70-horsepower vehicle was one of 5 vehicles to make the trip and the only American entry. Thomas employee and Springville native George Schuster was the only member of the Thomas crew to complete the entire 170-day, 12, 427 land mile trip.

The Thomas Flyer won the race and Thomas sales increased as a result of the advertising, from 816 automobiles in 1908 to 1,035 in 1909.

1906 advertisement from the Buffalo Automobile Club Tour Book. Image source: private collection.

But the Thomas Motor Company began its rapid decline when Henry Ford introduced the cheap, quickly built Model T. Despite E. R. Thomas' insistence that the "low-class" automobile would fade away because people would prefer the "high-class" vehicles like
the Thomas, the buying public proved otherwise. In 1910, 913 Thomas Flyers were sold, and 356,000 Ford Model T's.

E.R. Thomas sold the failing company in 1911 to a financial firm that tried to save it. But by 1913, a bankruptcy sale was held and nearly all that remained of the company was its factory complex, adaptively re-used in 2006 by the Rich Products Corporation.