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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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1906 Adams-Farwell. Photo courtesy of Douglas Wilkinson
Advertising brochure.

ADAMS-FARWELL AUTOMOBILES. Between 1898 and 1907, the ADAMS COMPANY (Encyclopedia Dubuque) manufactured fifty-two automobiles featuring futuristic innovations including fuel injection, supercharging, and automatic timing. There was even a model capable of 75 miles-per-hour, if a road could be found that could handle such speeds. (1)

The car was the first in the world to be powered with an air-cooled ROTARY ENGINE placed in the rear of the car ahead of the axle on a vertical axis. (2) The first successful rotary engine is generally attributed to F.O. Farwell in 1896, and was built by the Adams Company of Dubuque, Iowa. A three cylinder version powered the first rubber-tired automobile in 1899. Because of its light weight, this five cylinder engine was selected by Emile Berliner, an inventor possibly better known in the acoustics field, to drive a helicopter's vertical shaft in a 1908 "test rig." The New York Times reported on July 1, 1909 that a helicopter designed by Berliner and J. Newton Williams, using two of these engines, successfully lifted a few feet off the ground in the last week of June 1909 with Williams aboard. Although Berliner formed the Gyro Motor Company to pursue development of the rotary engine in aviation, the French Gnome engine was much more successful in bringing the rotary to a broad aviation market. (3)

The Adams-Farwell history began in 1883. In that year Eugene ADAMS and his brother Herbert established The Adams Company a manufacturer of such wide-ranging items as stoves, fireplace equipment, and milling equipment in Dubuque. Fay Oliver FARWELL joined the firm between 1885 and 1888. He may have been recruited because he begann his employment as general superintendent. The Adams brothers encouraged Farwell to experiment with his ideas using their equipment. Farwell was intrigued with self-propelled vehicles. Inspired by what he saw at the World' Fair in 1893, he returned to Dubuque and began work on a rotary engine. (4)

Model One, Adams-Farwell's first "horseless carriage," was built with the rotary engine, transmission, and gas tank linked to the front wheels of an express wagon. This was to be the only model designed with the engine in the front. The "vehicle" was not for sale given its crude nature and lack of safety devices. (5)

Model Two, built about 1899, refined the car's appearance, comfort, and design. The engine was moved to the rear of the vehicle where it remained throughout succeeding models. All parts for the vehicle except the axles, springs and wheels were built in The Adams Company. Although Farwell believed it could be sold, it was never placed on the market. (6)

Pictured outside the Carnegie-Stout Public Library, the Model 3 had the potential for all-season use. Larry Friedman

The Model Three, built in the fall of 1901 or possible 1903, so captured Farwell's interest that in 1903 he added doors, canopy top and a glass windshield. Cars suddenly had potential for year-round use. One of the many unique qualities of the car involved the steering column. The entire assembly and foot pedals could be removed from the front and placed in slots in front of the back seats. This converted the car from a two-seat coupe to a roadster. (7)

About 1905 the entire Dubuque police force posed proudly in a shining Adams-Farwell three-seater.

By 1903 the chassis for the Adams-Farwell was being produced in Dubuque by the CONNOLLY CARRIAGE MANUFACTORY. (8) Started by Thomas CONNOLLY, the company had been a competitor of Augustin A. COOPER in the production of wagons and carriages. In 1910 Adams-Farwell roadster and seven-passenger models were being advertised as having a hard wood frame with metal for "the back of seats and rear door through which access is had to the motor." (9)

The 1904 Adams-Farwell Model Five was powered by a twenty horsepower three-cylinder rotary engine. Acclaim by this time was becoming widespread. Exhibitors at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1905 praised the car for its innovations. The Chicago Chronicle declared of the car, "one of the most attractive cars at the auto show and one which has found perhaps the maximum of purchasers." (10) It was reported that $100,000 in orders were taken by interested buyers. (11)

Newspaper ad circa 1906. Photo courtesy: William Hammel

The Model 6 followed with five cylinders capable of producing forty to forty-five horsepower. With the body constructed locally at the Connolly Carriage and Buggy Company, this model cost $2,500. When James BEACH bought an Adams-Farwell he had difficulty getting a license to drive it because "authorities" in Des Moines did not believe there were any five-cylinder cars. They were wrong. (12) The 1906 Adams-Farwell was also available in three-cylinder (25 horsepower). (13)

The 1906 Model 6A had the following specifications:

    Body: Convertible, open body, folding front seat,
       capable of being driven from the front or rear seat
    Color: Black with fine blue lines or as desired
    Upholstery: leather, curled hair and springs
    Seating Capacity: five; three on main seat and two
       on folding seat
               Equipment: Acetylene search lights, one rear signal
                  lamp, odometer, gradometer, horn, all necessary
               Wheels: 34 inch, artillery
               Wheel Base: 84 inches
               Wheel Gauge: 56 inches
               Tires: 34 x 4 inches
               Fenders: Patent leather
               Axles: Front--1 3/8 inches solid steel, rear--2 inch
                  heavy tube
               Bearings: Timken roller
               Springs: Front--340 x 2 inches, 5 leaves, rear--40X 2
                  inches, 7 leaves
               Steering: Lever, removable from front to back seat,
                  cam movement, practically irreversible
               Weight: 1,800 pounds
               Price: With 20-25 horsepower equipment $2,000 FOB
                  Dubuque, with 40-45 horsepower equipment $25,000
                  FOB Dubuque
Adams-Farwell rotary engine. Photo courtesy: Murphy Library Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
1912 Model. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
1913 Model. Photo courtesy: National Mississippii River Museum and Aquarium

Adams-Farwell cars were noted for their numerous innovations. It was considered remarkable that the car had 15.5 inches of "clearance in the middle of the road" because there "were no fly wheels to strike obstructions, and practically nothing below the axles." (14) Clever designing in 1904 allowed the driver to shift from left to right hand operation or drive the car from the rear seat. The 1905 or 1906 Model Six B, built as the first production model, was advertised as a convertible because it could carry six passengers or could be used as a single-seated vehicle. The cars lacked the familiar crank, but instead used a lever pulled up from the floorboards. (15) Beginning in 1908, the forward control model was dropped with no new models designed. Perhaps remembering the hills of Dubuque, Adams-Farwell cars introduced a double clutch. (16) While using one gear, a driver could engage another gear on the clutch. This assured that drivers would not miss a gear on a hill. This was a unique safety feature. Most cars of that day had brakes that would stop only a forward motion. Farwell did not believe a muffler was needed, an idea that did not meet with everyone's agreement. See: GRADOMETER

Photo courtesy: Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and Paul HEMMER

Adams-Farwell automobiles were advertised with the slogan, "Made in Dubuque and Tested on Dubuque Hills." (17) Each car was tested on local hills and guaranteed "to stand up to all-day pull on the first gear and will not overheat with any amount of use on Dubuque hills." (18)

Celebration envelope

Adams-Farwell automobiles gleamed with twenty-two coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. (19) The appearance of the cars was further enhanced with pleated leather seats, a large brass bulb horn, patent leather fenders, a gas bag made of leather, and brass lamps. (20)

Nine different models were produced between 1898 and 1910. Insufficient sales halted production. Adams-Farwell cars cost between $2,500 and $4,000 at a time when the Model T, introduced and designed by Henry Ford in 1908, was about $700. Despite the cost, the Adams-Farwell tied with the Stoddard-Dayton as the most popular car in a survey done in 1910. (21)

Automobile manufacturing in Iowa lasted between ten and twelve years. Larger companies located in the East constructed factories with assembly lines which allowed the production of cars more cheaply. The Iowa automobile manufacturers, however, share credit with others for the construction of better roads. It was difficult to drive through mud, so gravel was spread to make a better surface. Concrete roads began to appear in 1920 and became expected on major roads by 1930. This led to the development of cement factories near Davenport, Des Moines, and Mason City and the employment of thousands in the new industry. (22)

Automobile historians long sought an example of an Adams-Farwell car. Making the matter more difficult was the fact that most of the cars had been shipped to other parts of the country. (23) It was not until around 1910 that "the wealthy and more daring purchased automobiles for sporting purposes rather than practical transportation." According to the Bill Jepsen book Made in Iowa--Iowa's Automobiles, Henry Ford was the first person interested in acquiring an Adams-Farwell. He even offered a $500 reward for information leading to one. (24) At the same time, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry was searching for an example to showcase in its "Golden Jubilee Celebration of the First Automobile Race to be Held in America." (25) Although no Adams-Farwell was involved in the race, it was the only type of American-made automobile not in an American exhibit at the time. (26)

In 1945 careful detective work proved successful. It was discovered that Florida resident Emerson Clavel owned a 1906 five-cylinder Model 6A. Clavel later sold his car to D. Cameron Peck who restored and then sold the car to Henry Austin Clark, Jr. of New York. In his research on this automobile, Clark found that it had originally been owned by James Beach of Dubuque. In 1966 this automobile, purchased from Clark in 1963 by the Harrah Automobile Foundation, was completely restored. It was later displayed in Reno, Nevada, at the National Automobile Museum.

The car was featured at the June 22, 1968 Tri-State Antique Show at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds. (27)

On August 21, 2011 the Adams-Farwell won the prestigious Charles A. Chayne Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This trophy is awarded to the car with the most advanced engineering of its era. (28)

Compiled from: Kimes; Standard Catalogue (1985).Chart courtesy: Wikipedia

Non-color catalog, 4x 6 inches, showing the Model 7A Touring car, one illustration of the engine, and a complete description of the car. The pamphlet was produced by the Adams Company.
Pamphlet contents
Pamphlet contents





1. Hinkley, Jim. "Requiem for an Industry," Kingman Daily Miner, May 5, 2007. Online: http://www.kingmandailyminer.com/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=4&ArticleID=12005

2. Kirkwood, Thomas J. and Diana. "Adams-Farwell Earned Dubuque Auto Niche," Teleraph Herald, Nov. 19, 1985, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=FBpRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JeIMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6351,2271232&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

3. "Adams-Farwell Rotary Engine," Dubuque Public Library of America. Online: https://dp.la/item/6007ecfeb821cdc1f032030eae6b70f6?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Fpage%3D102%26q%3DDubuque%26utf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593&next=2027&previous=2025

4. Jepsen, Bill. Iowa's Automobiles: An Enertaining and Enlightening History, Boone, Iowa: Sigler Companies, 2007, p. 151

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 152

7. Mitchell, Michel. "Connoisseur Finds Little New in Cars," Youngstown Vindicator, May 25, 1974, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=LSJJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xIMMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4164,4150414&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

8. "Hunt Dubuque-Made Auto," Telegraph Herald, June 24, 1945, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YCdiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OXYNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3106,2979600&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

9. "Adams-Farwell Cars" (advertisement), Telegraph Herald, April 10, 1910, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=XClCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gKoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2100,7961932&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

10. "Adams Company in the Lime Light," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 13 1906, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jflCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_KsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5469,3262686&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

11. Jepsen, p. 152

12. Kirkwood.

13. Jepsen, p. 152

14. "Dubuque Lost Chance for Plane Leadership," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 9, 1941, p. 8. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=rllFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2rsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2241,6655580&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Dahlinger, Mark, "They Made 52, But There's Only One Adams-Farwell Left," Telegraph Herald

20. Kirkwood

21. "Dubuque Lost Chance..."

22. Houlette, William. Iowa: The Pioneer Heritage. Des Moines: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1970, p. 203

23. "History of Dubuque and Dubuque County," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 15, 1939, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dtdBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BaoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5766,3140247&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

24. Jepsen, p. 152

25. "History of Dubuque and Dubuque County," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 15, 1939, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dtdBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BaoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5766,3140247&dq=adams-farwell&hl=en

26. Ibid.

27. "Dubuque-Built Car Highlight of Auto Show," Telegraph-Herald, June 9, 1968, p. 39

28. National Automobile Museum. Online: http://nationalautomobilemuseum.blogspot.com/2012/01/1906-adams-farwell-wins-special-award.html