Charles Richard Patterson was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation. After escaping to freedom in Greenfield, Ohio, he learned the skills of a blacksmith and worked in the carriage-making trade. Eventually, he became a prominent and respected citizen of his town, and sole proprietor of C.R. Patterson & Sons, which became the only African American owned and operated automobile company.
His business built and repaired buggies and carriages until his death in 1910, when his company was passed on to his son. Frederick Patterson was already a pioneer in college, sports, and business. He led C.R. Patterson & Sons in transitioning to the repair and manufacture of “horseless carriages” in 1915. Patterson-Greenfield automobiles were hand-built, high-quality products.
The small independent shop struggled with competition from assembly line manufacturers in Detroit, and the financial effects of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. However, the company, now run by the sons of Frederick Patterson, continued building bus and truck bodies to fit on other manufacturers’ chassis.
In 1939 the company closed its doors after 74 years. C.R. Patterson had sustained three generations and earned its place in automotive history.