Windham Life and Times – January 3, 2020

“Footprints of Genius”

William Meserve and his workshop on Route 28 in Windham NH,

William Meserve Windham NH

“A leading dentist in Lawrence became much interested in his work, and in 1902 contracted with him to build a two seated surrey. This contact led to the formation of a company, and a gasoline demonstrator, in the form of a truck was built. The company seemed to be ‘off to a flying start’ when ill fortune overtook it. One of the four men who formed it proved himself unequal to his responsibility, and financial disaster terminated this infant industry.”

“Nothing daunted my father and he continued to experiment, and finally brought forth the first gasoline propelled four-cylinder, two cycle motor with lift valves, so designed as to give the same results as an eight cylinder car of today. This car had a compressed-air self starter (which we believe to have been the first ever in service) and many additional features which other automobiles did not have until years later. Two of these were a wheel base of 140 inches and a three speed selective transmission. The chassis and engine of this car were invented and built by my father, the wheels and body being supplied by nearby companies. It was finished in 1904 and ran 125 miles without a stop on its initial trial. This was everywhere considered a remarkable feat. It was built for a lawyer in Derry, where my father moved to provide better educational opportunities for his growing family. The car proved to be most dependable, and gave long years of satisfactory service.”

“What might of developed from his work and experimentation we shall never know, for Fate again took things into her own hands. That same year he was attacked with rheumatic fever, and was for months was too ill to do work of any kind…”

From the history of Derry, NH. From Turnpike to Interstate we learn the following: “William Meserve and the First Automobile. Both Windham and Salem lay claim to William Forest Meserve, but Derry can put in its bid as well. Although he had no formal education after he was seventeen years old, during his lifetime he could have qualified for any of the following: mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, millwright, architect, draftsman, carpenter, and musician among others. William Meserve made the first automobile in Derry in 1900. (?!) He and his family lived in Derry for several autumns and winters during the early years of this century. Their permanent home was in Windham.

“In 1904 Will Meserve built another automobile in Derry. This was the first car he made completely—everything except the wheels and coach work. It had a four cylinder engine, that developed thirty-two horsepower (calibrated by the conservative standards of those days). It was a two cycle engine with lift valves, hence it had the power of an eight cylinder motor. It had a three speed transmission and a compressed self starter. The car was built in the rear of the Bartlett block in the part that had a large door facing Franklin Street. Built for Attorney Benjamin T. Bartlett, it was heavy, weighing 3,300 lbs. In June, 1904, Meserve, along with Attorney Bartlett, Bartlett’s nephew, Benjamin Piper, and another young man, Ernest Low, gave the car a thorough workout. First they drove it to Manchester and back. Travelling times over the rutty dirt roads of that day were forty minutes going and thirty-seven minutes returning. Then they immediately ventured forth on an 125 miles trip that encompassed Nottingham, Durham, Portsmouth, Kittery, Maine, then back to Portsmouth, Greenland, Hampton Beach, Exeter, Epping, and finally back home to Derry. The new machine performed perfectly throughout the trip and did not require a single adjustment on route.”

 

 

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