Background Information

(Copied and condensed from "Looking Back" by Garney Pedersen, Steppin' Out, July 1973; Antique Automobile, November-December 1975, Vol. 39 No. 6; "James Viele...and the Allegheny Automobile," Stepping Stones, January 1975, by Donald J. Summar and the Warren County Register of Automobiles)


            In the late nineteenth century, inventors in America and Europe began experimenting with what would come to be called the automobile. However, the first automobiles seen in Warren probably did not come until the turn of the century. Until then, Warrenites relied on their horses, locomotives, electric streetcars, bicycles, and their feet to get them from place to place. In August of 1900, the Warren Mirror notes that the only horseless carriage in Warren County was owned by Bump & Johnson of Kinzua Township.

            Although it seems strange today to think of building your own car instead of buying one, in the early days of automobiles, many mechanically-minded people thought they could do just that. James A. Viele, secretary of the Allegheny Foundry Company of Warren, was just one of the county men who built his own automobile. In 1904, he designed an automobile of his own, and had it built at the Conewango Foundry.  He had the body of the car built in the Wilburine Car Shops in Warren. The Warren Mail described the automobile as "the product of local labor and genius alone."  Viele used it to drive to and from work.  Unfortunately, it was not very reliable because it overheated easily.  Undeterred, Viele began a second one. This time, both the frame and the engine were built in the shop of the Allegheny Foundry Company, and he purchased a used car body. It ran better than the first. However, he never built another one. Both cars were eventually junked, and no more were ever produced.

            Early automobile travel in Warren County and elsewhere would have been very difficult. Dirt roads, the most common type, would be dusty in dry weather, icy and slick in cold weather, and muddy in wet weather. Even brick and cobblestone roads, which might be found in some towns, were bone-jarring to automobile passengers. Cars were not as reliable as they are today, and broke down easily. This could be inconvenient and even frightening, if the driver was on a lonely road. Tires were unreliable too and drivers traveled with their own tire repair kits. Early automobile drivers were truly pioneers who had to learn to deal with many difficulties unknown today.

            As automobiles became increasingly popular, new businesses sprang up in Warren County to sell, repair, and service them. In 1915, Warren received its first car dealership, a Chevrolet agency. The corner gas station, which is such an important part of our landscape, sprang up at this time too. Some stations were plain and simple, but many were very eye-catching in order to attract customers.

            The automobile and the truck increasingly took the place of horses, streetcars, boats, and trains for transporting people and goods into and out of Warren County. Although other forms of transportation never disappeared entirely, when we think of getting ourselves from one place to another today, we most often think about the car.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society