Ventnor: America's Luxury Redefined

1890: The Industrial Revolution

The world was currently in the throes of the largest surge of advancement in science and technology it has ever known. What was once known as the Wild West was now largely tamed and growing more civilized every day. Vast networks of railways and telegraph lines crisscrossed the nation, making large travel distances shorter as time presses on. However, not every town was connected to a railway, and telegraph lines also shared this limitation. Thus horseback and wagon still remained a practical means of conveyance. Stagecoaches in particular proved a useful and flexible means of transport, in this venture our story begins with a man named Norman Ventnor.

Norman Ventnor worked with his father Matthew and older brother Hamish at Ventnor and Son’s Livery in Dodge City, Kansas. A town known for its vibrant history, by 1890 it was mostly a sleepy community. With the cowboys, gamblers, saloon keepers, and brothel owners moving to greener pastures, business dropped off. While Matthew and Hamish were content running the livery stable, Norman felt that expanding their business was the best hope to adapt to the coming changes. A stage line seemed the logical choice since there were still many towns and cities that weren’t accessible by rail. Within a year, Ventnor Stage Lines was a small, but busy network of stations.

Ventnor Traveler circa 1899

The Traveler was the model stagecoach used by the company. Over the history of the company, around 210 had been built. As word came out about motorized vehicles in Europe, it did not take long for the concept to reach the United States. Using a locally developed four horsepower petrol engine, 25 units were modified as an experiment for this revolutionary new powertrain. Instead of reins, drivers used a tiller to steer while operating a complicated array of levers to control speed and braking. While slow to accelerate, the Traveler was capable of hitting 32 miles per hour on a flat surface. (One was rumored to have reached 52 mph!) The condition of the mostly rural roads used by the Traveler meant that much slower paces were required. The engines were prone to mechanical failure, the brakes were horrifically inadequate when attempting to stop from high speeds, and the requirement of petrol meant limitations on which routes the motorized Traveler could take. As a means of transportation it was easy to call the motorized Traveler a failure, but as a concept, it proved the potential of the internal combustion engine as the wave of the future.

The Traveler received an update in 1903 to include a muffler for the engine much to the relief of passengers who took exception to the noise. With the motor car becoming the wave of the future, Ventnor Motor Company was born in 1904, the motorized and horse drawn Travelers would continue to operate until Ventnor Stage Lines closed down in 1919.

More to come…


I haven’t heard from Ventnor in a long time, although the nameplate has been around since the Kee era. Anyway, it’s nice to see it return.

Chapter II: Ventnor enters the horseless carriage market.

Dodge City, Kansas 1904

Ventnor Stage Lines was performing admirably, business was steady, and the small number of self-propelled stages became something of a novelty. However, with the increasing number of horseless carriages, also referred as automobiles, Norman Ventnor knew some changes had to be made. Seeing that this was the wave of the future, Ventnor got to work developing a new vehicle, an automobile of his own to compete in the growing market. By 1904 he had a prototype completed to present to the Dodge City council as he made his request to build a factory in the city. He argued that Dodge could become a major manufacturing hub in the middle of the United States.

His proposal was rejected.

With things being quiet and peaceful in Dodge, many felt that building a car factory would begin to attract a more hostile element, bringing back the period of violence that Dodge City was known for in the past. Not willing to be deterred Norman Ventnor set out in search of somewhere where he could build his factory and get his company to really take off. He eventually made his way to Detroit, Michigan. With numerous other automakers already manufacturing in the city, Ventnor had little difficulty getting permission to build a factory for himself.

By mid 1905 Ventnor’s first official car was in production, the Ace Series.

Models included the two-door Runabout, the four-door Touring, the Pickup, and the Delivery. All variants used a 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine producing a modest 35 horsepower mated to a two-speed manual transmission. The cars features acetylene headlamps and a leaf spring suspension. All cars were built by hand.

Not wanting to stop there, a special variant of the Ace was built specifically for one purpose, speed and speed alone.

With a 111 horsepower engine mated to a four speed transmission, this version of the Ace was capable of a staggering 90 miles per hour. It competed in numerous racing events.

The Ace Series proved to be a solid lineup bringing Ventnor into the start of the Twentieth Century.


Chapter IIa: Return to the Past

Somewhere in Nebraska 1907

While Norman Ventnor was living in Detroit working hard to produce automobiles, his older brother Hamish remained in Dodge City to run the stage coach line. It was one fateful April morning when one of the motorized Traveler stage coaches disappeared. Investigations into the site seemed to suggest an Indian attack, a conclusion met with a good deal of skepticism due to the lack of any major conflict between Indians and American settlers for nearly 15 years.

The answer would come later in the small town of Blackwood*, NE. On May 3rd 1907, the local bank was robbed, the perpetrators escaping in a Ventnor Traveler stage coach. A posse was rounded up to pursue, but was forced to break off when they found every watering hole outside of town had been salted. While they were unable to water their horses, the bank robbers had no such limitation using the internal-combustion engine powered stage coach to make their getaway.

The level of coordination used in this bank heist meant the work of the infamous Von Richter Gang. Karl Von Richter immigrated to the United States in 1890, he believed his Prussian Cavalry background made him an ideal outlaw as he took a military approach towards crime. Crimes committed by the Von Richter Gang were known by the meticulous level of planning involved, every contingency accounted for. Word of Von Richter’s exploits would travel far, a little farther than he anticipated…

The unique nature of the Blackwood Robbery made headlines over a good part of the country, even making it as far east as Detroit, MI where Norman Ventnor got word of it. Fearing what the use of one of his innovations could mean for the reputation of Ventnor as a company, he felt he could not sit by and do nothing. Calling up Hamish to take charge of the company in his absence, Norman packed his luggage and started west…

To be continued…