Headline: Inventor of the Stanley Steamer: The Remarkable F.O. Stanley

F.O. Stanley, led a remarkable life. He and his twin brother invented the Stanley Steamer automobile, made a fortune in the late l800s and set a world's speed record in l906. They also invented a photographic process they sold to George Eastman (Kodak) for another fortune. And F.O. built the famed Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, later associated with Stephen King's novel The Shining.

At age 53, F.O. Stanley contracted tuberculosis and doctors told him he had one year to live. He moved to the Colorado mountains and lived to be 9l.

Born in l849 at Kingfield, Maine, Freelan Oscar Stanley was one of seven children born to a middle-income farm couple. Freelan and his brother, Francis, were mechanically inclined and often invented things. They built their first steam-powered automobile in l897. By l899 they owned a factory and were producing l0 cars a day, with orders backed up for months.

Photo: F.O. Stanley in western garb, complete with wooly chaps.

F.O. Stanley usually dressed in a business suit. But occasionally he bacame part of the woolly west.

They sold their car business for a quarter million dollars, a fortune then. But the new owner didn't understand the business and botched it. The Stanley brothers bought it back for a fraction of what they sold it for, making another fortune.

In l906 their Stanley Steamer set a world's speed record of nearly l30 miles per hour. The little contraption weighed only 500 pounds and had a 35-pound, two-cylinder engine. But it was a masterpiece of engineering by the Stanleys. During the speed trial, the car became airborne and rose several feet off the ground. It hit the ground and broke into two sections. The boiler flew down the track blowing steam like a meteor, according to reporters. Thereafter, that model of the Stanley Steamer was called the Flying Teapot.

When Stanley went to Colorado for his health in l903, there was barely a wagon trail up the mountains to Estes Park. But he was determined to drive his Steamer there, to prove the car could make it. He needed someone to accompany him, to fetch water from streams for the car's boiler. But no one would go along. The local people thought he was crazy to drive a car up the treacherous mountain trail.

So Stanley drove by himself. His cap pulled down tight around his ears and his long beard flying in the wind, he made it to Estes Park from Denver in less than two hours. That was no doubt another record for a cliff-hanging, steam-hissing Stanley Steamer. You can barely drive it in that time today.

He loved Estes Park and decided in l909 to build a luxurious hotel there for vacationing Easterners. He bought l40 acres of land and designed the hotel himself. He also designed a power plant for the hotel, a manor house, casino building, tennis courts, 9-hole golf course, trap shooting range and an airfield for small planes.


The hotel cost a half-million dollars to build. Stanley paid cash for it. He did not believe in credit. In fact, he and his brother always required full payment for every automobile they sold.

The Stanley Hotel was so popular that in a two-month period in l9ll, over 2,500 guests rode up the mountain in a fleet of l3 Stanley Steamer buses. Guests included J.C. Penney, John Phillip Sousa, Harvey Firestone, Dr. William Mayo and many other famous people. Guests also included the children of Estes Park. Stanley and his wife had no children. He often held special events for the local children, paid for their horseback rides at his stable and even paid the college tuition of some youngsters.

He was determined always to have a first-class hotel and instructed the staff to turn away any guests who didn't seem suitable. During World War I, few people traveld and tourism dropped to almost nothing. But Stanley would sit in the hotel lobby, look over the people who came in, and nod yes or no to the clerks. He would turn away guests even though the hotel was empty.

Stanley was very popular in Estes Park. At his funeral in l940, one local man said, "He enjoyed sitting out in front of the hotel, interpreting the beauty of the mountains to guests. He could give a respect for the mountains that nobody else could give."

No wonder. The mountains gave him life.

Photo: scenic view of the Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909, was recently associated with Stephen King's novel The Shining.

The Stanley Hotel is designated a National Historic Landmark and still overlooks one of the most spectacular mountain views in America. One of the original Stanley Steamers sits in the hotel lobby, and another is used as a bus for local tours. The hotel is operated by the Grand Heritage company that owns several historic hotels in the United States. For information or reservations, call 800-976-l377.

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