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FreightWaves Classics/Fallen Flags: Landsden Company was an early manufacturer of electric trucks

Background

The first automobiles were introduced in the 1890s. Over the next 10 years, various inventors and manufacturers developed automobiles (and later trucks) that were powered by fossil fuels, batteries and steam. 

The Lansden Company, a manufacturer and marketer of electric vehicles, was incorporated in New Jersey on this day in 1904. The Newark-based company was founded by John M. Lansden and William M. Little, and they focused mainly on large vehicles such as trucks. The Lansden Company quickly established itself as a major force in the new U.S. electric vehicles market.

The inventor Thomas Edison was a major proponent of the company, and the Lansden Company only utilized storage batteries created by Edison for its vehicles. In fact, whenever the automobile company found its supply of batteries running low, Edison’s manufacturing facility in West Orange, New Jersey, stopped manufacturing other products to focus on building more batteries for Lansdale. Then Edison took a controlling interest in the Lansden Company in September 1908.

The sign on the side of this vehicle says it all. (Photo: jerseyshorecarshows.com)

Vehicles for specialized markets

The Lansden Company manufactured early versions of industrial trucks, as well as vehicles that were used as ambulances, buses and brewery wagons. Among the company’s customers were Wells Fargo, New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, the New York Public Library System, and Macy’s and Gimbels, rival New York City department stores. A Lansden taxicab was introduced in 1910, as well as the Electrette, a two-seat roadster.

The Lansdale Company factory in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo: jerseyshorecarshows.com)
The Lansdale Company factory in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo: jerseyshorecarshows.com)

Reversals of fortune

Although the company was doing well, Lansden left his namesake company in 1911, taking a position with the General Motors Truck Company. Not long afterward, Thomas Edison was forced to sell the Lansden Company due to financial setbacks. Edison sold the company to John M. Mack (of Mack Trucks) in 1912; however, the company went into receivership shortly thereafter. 

In 1913 Mack moved the Lansden Company to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and combined it with the Mack Truck Company and the Webb Fire Engine Company. Vehicles of all three companies were made in the same manufacturing facilities.

Various Lansdale electric vehicles being built. (Photo: jerseyshorecarshows.com)
Various Lansdale electric vehicles being built. (Photo: jerseyshorecarshows.com)

A changing market

During the 1910s and 1920s, gasoline-powered vehicles began to take more and more market share from electric- and steam-powered vehicles. The number of electric- and steam-powered vehicle manufacturers dwindled, as did the infrastructure to service them. 

The Lansden Company was reestablished in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1921. As noted, though, the production and sales of electric vehicles continued to drop sharply nationwide throughout the 1920s, and the once-thriving company went out of business around 1928.

Legacy

Ironically, 100 years later, electric vehicles have made a comeback, and are considered the future of automobiles and trucks.

A Nikola Tre fuel cell electric truck hauls a load of beer in Southern California as the early versions of the advanced technology trucks go into testing with Anheuser-Busch. (Photo: Nikola)
A Nikola Tre fuel cell electric truck hauls a load of beer in Southern California as the early versions of the advanced technology trucks go into testing with Anheuser-Busch. (Photo: Nikola)