Campbell T. Chittenden, a Columbus businessman and hotelier, is regarded as the first Columbus resident to purchase a “horseless carriage” in Central Ohio. That vehicle was delivered in September, 1899 from the Winton Motor Carriage Company in Cleveland.
Chittenden’s $1,000 vehicle was fueled by common stove gas and could reach a maximum speed of 18 mph. Hugh Grant Jr. is believed to have owned the first motorized car in Grove City.
Perry Okey, a Columbus master machinist and inventor actually built the first motored vehicle in Central Ohio, according to papers from the late John R. Hooper of Grove City.
Okey introduced his automobile in Columbus in the summer of 1899, according to Okey’s handwritten notation on the back of a photograph. His vehicle attracted a crowd of spectators on Fourth Street about 50 feet south of Long Street, the note read. He “motored” around the county to much acclaim.
After Okey introduced his prototype vehicle after five years work, he continued to make improvements until Jan. 13, 1900, according to Hooper’s records. Little else is known about Okey’s automobile except that on Feb. 25, 1901 he formed the Okey Automobile Company at 7 Frank Street, Columbus to manufacture automobiles. Internet searches have produced no additional information about the vehicle.
Hooper, who was president of Okey Manufacturing in the mid 1970’s recalled two other stories Perry frequently told. The first was a trip to Washington, DC to pitch one of his inventions. Many Columbus business leaders considered him a mechanical genius and encouraged his trip by writing letters of support to officials in the nation’s capital.
According to Hooper, Perry met with a Navy admiral described as a large, red headed man with a mutton chop whiskers. The presentation was made during the Spanish American War and Okey was trying to sell his idea for a one-man submarine.
His plan met with much resistance and Okey was escorted out of the admiral’s office as “some kind of a nut”. From that day, Perry had little use for anyone in government saying: “They are nothing but a bunch of pinheaded idiots.”
Another favorite story by Okey, as told by Hooper, involved an early ordinance in the City of Columbus dealing with automobiles and horse drawn vehicles. The ordinance dictated that anytime a motorized vehicle approached a wagon or buggy drawn by a team of horses, the automobile had to stop and the driver had to get our and lead the horses past the vehicle to prevent frightening the horses.
“Perry didn’t always observe this ordinance and Okey recalled there were some great run-always in those days,” Hooper said.