1904 Buffum: A First Generation 4-Cylinder Automobile Built In America

Greg Zyla
Q: Hello Greg I read your column every week, and I have attached some information on the Buffum Automobiles, produced by my family.
It is so interesting and gratifying to know that my ancestors were a part of the first generation of automobiles. I can trace my family back to its first generation that came to the United States in 1638. We also have a Buffum Museum in Colden, NY, and have two very thick books listing all the ancestry up to toady. The first Buffums are laid to rest in Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, MA, with a large Buffum monument there.
All of my relatives have always been industrious individuals, including all the years since that first car. Since you write about cars from the past, I am attaching a couple of pictures and info on the early Buffum Automobiles.
Interesting to read are the advanced features of these automobiles—and the prices they were being offered at back then. My family’s company was known as The H. H. Buffum & Co., located in Abington, MA.
My family ancestor Herbert H. Buffum produced an American Automobile called the Buffum from 1903 to 1907. Buffum moved to Abington in 1890 and was an inventor of machinery, built bicycles, and did various mechanical repairs. In 1903 Buffum built and perfected his first American Automobile (that differed from his horseless buggy style car in the late 1890s).
H. H. Buffum was a pioneer of the flat engine of multiple cylinders. In 1902 a Buffum racecar was equipped with opposed four cylinder engines that were rated at 16 horsepower.
The Scandinavian-based Bonhams Auction house noted that “H.H. Buffum, during his involvement with the automobile, designed and produced some of the most ambitious, early automobiles ever seen in this country. In a period spanning just 13 years, about 70 truly remarkable machines were built. For a man who made so few cars, Buffum achieved groundbreaking results: he produced the first American four-cylinder car, production or otherwise, the first cataloged production American race car and the world's first production V8 automobile.”
The Bonhams Auction info continued, noting that “Buffum began work on his first automotive design (buggy) in 1894. The car was completed the following year in Massachusetts, where Buffum had moved to from the West Coast for the purpose of producing machinery for the burgeoning shoe industry in the Northeast. Buffum was primarily a designer and producer of complex machines for the automation of shoe production. In fact, he had secured numerous patents for his machinery, developed a successful sprinkler head design as well as sewing and nailing machines.”
Thank you for your correspondence and interest in my family history and automobiles. There is complete information on the Buffum from 1894 on Bonhams Auction at https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20322/lot/446/.
Sincerely, George L. Buffum, Brackney, PA.
A: George, thank you very much for everything you sent on your family and the early American cars they built. I admit I knew very little of the Buffum cars and didn’t know of the performance aspects of the Flat 8, his V8 engines and being the first to build an overhead valve 4-cylinder engine.
The info you sent highlights the 1904 Buffum Series H inline overhead valve 4-cylinder that sold for $4,000, which was a hefty sum back then.
What is even more impressive is that H.H. Buffum also was a major manufacturer of machines that could help mass produce shoes. He also built sewing machines and nailing machines and was a multi-industrial genius.
Thus, I feel H.H. Buffum deserves note as being similar to two other individuals who were also major influences in car and industrial production; George Mason of Nash Kelvinator and Powell Crosley Jr., of Crosley Industries.
Crosley Jr. produced more than cars, such as radios and kitchen appliances. Crosley also owned the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and powerful early day broadcast radio stations.
Today, you can still buy Crosley radios and appliances, but Kelvinator has long since stopped production. However, the Kelvinator brand was sold to White Consolidated Industries in 1968, which brought the product under its corporate appliance group joining ElectroLux, White-Westinghouse, Gibson, and Frigidaire appliance brands. Kelvinator still exists as a brand owned by Electrolux AB. Trivia? The first ever side-by-side refrigerator was produced by Kelvinator in 1955, and one sold for over $6,000 at a recent auction.
In wrapping up, I advise my readers to take a look at the website provided and you’ll realize that pre-1900 cars like the Buffum were few and far between, and that the Buffum Automobiles were ahead of the curve.
Therefore, H.H. Buffum joins George Mason and Powell Crosley Jr. as our “Collector Car Corner Big Three Industrialists” who not only built cars, but also produced much more for consumers everywhere.
Thanks again for all the info you sent and being a reader.

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