The below article appeared in the Sept/Oct 2023 Vintage Voice
By Bill Flitcraft with contributions from Ray Ellis
Does anyone reading this remember the year 1916? Probably not. But it was a year with some things worth remembering.
-Albert Einstein completed his mathematical formulation of a general theory of relativity. (You remember, E=mC2)
-Montana voters elect 36-year-old Republican Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.
-The U.S President, Woodrow Wilson, signs a bill incorporating The Boy Scouts of America and also signs legislation creating the National Park Service.
-Charlie Chaplin signs on with Mutual Studios and earns an unprecedented $10,000 a week. But it was on June 24 that Mary Pickford, becomes the first movie star to sign a million-dollar contract, making her one of the highest-paid people in the world. And she didn't even have to say anything because they were silent films.
-A postage stamp cost 2 cents.
-On July 4, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs opened a stand at Brooklyn’s Coney Island and held an eating contest as a publicity stunt that became an annual event.
-John D. Rockefeller becomes the first person ever to reach a nominal personal fortune of $1 billion US. (Nowadays anyone can do that if they buy the winning lottery ticket)
-The first World War was raging in Europe.
-The Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA) was created.
-The tallest building in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
-Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school and only 8% of American homes had telephones.
It was certainly a different time. Things have changed drastically since then. Without a doubt, life was much harder. The toggle light switch, something we take for granted today, was invented in 1916 by William J. Newton. Up until then light switches were prone to arcing and did not last long nor did they work particularly well. Newton's invention, the "quick-break" toggle switch overcame the problem of a switch's contacts developing electric arcing whenever the circuit was opened or closed. Arcing would cause pitting on one contact and the build-up of residue on the other, and then the switch's useful life would be diminished. The action of this "quick break" mechanism meant that there was insufficient time for an arc to form, and the switch would thus have a longer working life. This "quick break" technology is still in use in almost every ordinary light switch in the world today, numbering in the billions. (Think about that for a moment, light switches were a big deal in 1916.)
But life could be made bearable, even enjoyable if you had a thousand dollars to spend on an Oakland automobile.
The year 1916 marked an exciting time for the automotive industry as numerous companies vied for market dominance. Among these was the Oakland Automobile Company, a brand renowned for its commitment to quality and innovation. The 1916 Oakland automobile stood as a testament to the company's dedication, boasting an impressive range of specifications, models, and new features that captured the essence of the era. The Oakland Automobile Company, based in Pontiac, Michigan, emerged in 1907. Founded by Edward M. Murphy, the company originally manufactured horse-drawn carriages before transitioning to automobile production in 1908. The Oakland brand gained recognition for its commitment to craftsmanship, reliability, and luxurious design, attracting a growing base of loyal customers.
The 1916 Model 38 Oakland came equipped with a four-cylinder motor. The 3-1/2" bore x 5" stroke deserved its “long stroke” moniker. The Model 38, which was offered in three body styles, touring, roadster and speedster were priced at $1050. However, the ad for the speedster at the top right carries a price tag of $1100. But the exciting news for 1916 was the introduction of two additional cars, Models 32 and 32-B which carried six-cylinder engines which surprisingly had slightly smaller over-all displacement than the four cylinder. This was due to the fact the six had a reduced bore and stroke. The third model, however, was something totally new for Oakland. The model 50 featured a completely new 90 degree V-8 engine with a bore and stroke of 3-1/2" x 4". The V-8 motor, however, was not a product of the Oakland manufacturing plant in Pontiac, Michigan. The motor was purchased from Northway Motor and Manufacturing which was based in Detroit. Northway was an, "Inter Company Parts Division" of General Motors. It was well known in the trade that Northway had been the sole suppler of engines for a number of years to Oakland, Oldsmobile, and GMC Truck. The Northway company was purchased by WC Durant for the growing General Motors Company in 1909. A few years later, it was reported for the year 1912, that Northway was making 11,000 engines a year. Oakland was then the largest single customer buying 5000 engines, with the rest of Northway's production spread among twelve other car and truck assemblers. Eventually in the early 1920s, both Oakland and Oldsmobile moved away from outsourcing their engines, and begun to build their own engines in house in Pontiac and Lansing. (It was this later Oakland V-8 that was used in the end run of Oaklands in 1931. Some found their way into the 1932 Pontiacs as the Oaklands were no more.) The Oakland V-8 was retained for one more year through 1917. Also that year Oakland introduced another six cylinder in their Model 34 which came in three body styles, roaster, sedan and coupe.
This ad touts the reasons a discerning buyer would chose an Oakland. There was quite a bit of difference in the horsepower between the 4 cylinder and the eight with the four advertised as 39-1/2 Hp and the eight with 70 (73 Hp was amount given on some spec sheets). The fact was that Oakland provided a range of power to appeal to any level of buyer. This concept was integrated into the GM products by the early 1930s.
In 1916, the size of the engine was not the determining factor when it came to price. You can see by reading the above ad the 4 cylinder was priced at $1050 while the 6 was at $795. The V-8 sold for $1585. Nineteen Sixteen was the first year an eight cylinder engine was offered by Oakland. At this time in Oakland's history all engines were manufactured by Northway Motor Company. Outsourcing parts to build automobiles was a rather common occurrence during this time.
The copy in this ad went into great detail describing the Oakland features. A "V" shaped German silver radiator was called out. The United States had not joined in the war that had been raging in Europe since July, 1914. In April, 1917 when the U.S. declares war on Germany that may not have been a selling point. Some of the other highlights were; One man top (one man could open or close the top by himself), the rear springs are directly under the frame, the engine could "attain" 2500 RPM, and the gas passages in the manifold are in no way restrictive due to a special design.
In this photo, taken a few years ago, you can see the unique manifolds on the Oakland V-8 mounted on top of the motor