It’s hard to believe that the company that produced some of the most artful automotive designs in American history began its life producing gilded bird cages. Originally known as Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer, it was George Norman Pierce who bought out the others and decided to branch into other forms of industrial design.
Pierce added his name to the company and began to produce bicycles in 1896. Wanting to move into automotive design, perhaps a bit prematurely, Pierce even attempted to build a steam-powered motor car. The result was a single-cylinder two-speeder without a reverse function. As you might imagine, it was not a hit. The second iteration, nicknamed “Arrow,” added a second cylinder and gave Pierce enough motivation to pursue the luxury auto market.
Pierce focused his efforts on growing the luxury market, and he produced “The Great Arrow.” The four-cylinder quickly became Pierce’s most successful product, winning the Glidden Trophy in 1905.
The Great Arrow became a status symbol for Hollywood elite and royalty around the world. Pierce became one of the classic car afficianado’s “three P’s of motoring,” with the other two being Packard and Peerless.
The company even approached its advertising with a mantra of design first, portraying the car in the background of elaborate scenes. This understated approach to advertising helped associate the car with elegance. Typically, only a portion of the car was showing and the ad would depict some grand event the driver was attending.
The car was so sturdy and rugged that fire departments would use the chassis and engine to build fire trucks with.
About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his LinkedIn.