The Big Car Database


F. B. Stearns and Company (later F.B. Stearns Company) was an American manufacturer of luxury cars in Cleveland, Ohio marketed under the brand names Stearns and Stearns-Knight.

Former type

Automobile Manufacturing
Industry Automotive
Genre Luxury and sports cars
Fate Sold to J.N. Willys in 1925
Founded 1898 (F. B. Stearns & Co.)
Founder Frank Ballou Stearns, Raymond M. Owen, Ralph L. Owen
Defunct 1929
Headquarters Cleveland, Ohio, United States

Area served

United States

Key people

F. B. Stearns, F. M. Stearns, R. M. Owen, R. L. Owen, G. W. Booker, J.N. Willys, H. J. Leonard, J. F. Trumble, Barney Oldfield
Products Automobiles
Automotive parts
Footnotes / references
Pioneer in sleeve-valve engines


Frank Ballou Stearns (1879–1955) was an early automotive pioneer who, in 1896, built his first experimental car as a student, aged seventeen, in the basement of the family home. He built a four-cylinder car as early as 1897, but as it did not work properly he instead switched to single-cylinder engines. His father allowed him to proceed and supported him with money and a barn they converted to a machine shop.

The first production model evolved in 1898; it was a gasoline-fuel buggy-style automobile with a one-cylinder engine (horizontal under the floor), tillersteering, wire wheels, planetary transmission, and chain drive. In the same year, F. B. Stearns & Company was organized with his partners, brothers Raymond M. and Ralph L. Owen.

As early as 1901, he introduced a steering wheel instead of the tiller, and advanced to a gasoline runabout with a 4083cc (101ci) one-cylinder engine under the seat bench, and single chain drive. Until then, about 50 cars had been built.

For 1902, Stearns offered a variety of models, including a touring car model. Equipped with a front-mounted, 24 hp (17.9 kW) water-cooled flat twinand tonneau, and three-speed transmission was fitted. Notably, all vehicle controls were situated on the steering wheel. The armored wood-framed car weighed 2800 lb (1270 kg), seated six passengers, and sold for $3,000.

In 1904, Stearns had a very European four-cylinder of 36 hp (27 kW), with pressed steel chassis, wheelbase of 111 inches (282 cm), and four-speed gearbox, but a distinctly American (i.e., backward) coil and battery, rather than the magneto typical in Europe. This changed in 1905, when the 32/40 made magneto standard, as wheelbase grew to 118 in (300 cm). Stearns used the slogan Runs like A Deer in this year.

1905 brought a new car that was again bigger and which provided the only offering from the small Cleveland manufacturer. It was a huge automobile with a four-cylinder L-head engine with a block cast in pairs and mechanical operated side valves delivering 40 HP. Wheelbase of 118 inches (300 cm). It was called the model 32/40 and was available as a very expensive 7-passenger Touring that set a buyer back a hefty $4,150.

Stearns introduced a 40/45 four in 1906, with aluminum body panels, tonneau, and windshield, with "no less than 17 coats of paint", at a cost of $5,200.This car shared the wheelbase of previous year's 32/40, though the touring body now seated five passengers.

1907 was the last year in which the company offered but one single model. Again, it was a new one, and again, it was the largest and most powerful yet. The 30/60 rode on a 120-inch (3048 mm). It had a massive T-head four-cylinder engine with the cylinder block cast in pairs, displacing 536 c.i. (8783 cc) and delivering 60 HP. There were two body styles available: a Touring with either 5 or 7 seats for $4,500 each, and a 7-passenger Pullman at $4,759. 

Believed to be the fastest stock automobile of its period, Barney Oldfield won the Mount Wilson hillclimb in a Stearns Six (which was a 45/90 of 12913cc/788ci). In 1910 at Brighton Beach, Al Pooleand Cyrus Patschke won a 24-hour race, covering 1253 mi (2016 km) at an average 52.2 mph (84.0 km/h).

This is 1911 Stearns Model 15/30 Toy Tonneau, Chassis #4683. It has a 4-cylinder, T-head poppet valve engine with T-head configuration with a displacement of 294.2 c.i. (4821 cc), delivering 32 HP. It features a Stearns carburetor and Bosch ignition. Wheelbase is 116 in. (2946 mm). Price when new was US$3,200 or 3,500, depending on source, which put in easily in the luxury class although this was the least expensive of 4 model line for Stearns and Stearns-Knight that year. A Toy Tonneau is an open, light body for 4 or 5 passengers.

This car was part of the Harrah automobile collection in Reno, NV, in the 1970s.

Soon, however, Stearns turned away from performance. In 1911, the firm began installing Knight sleeve valve engines, marketed under the Stearns-Knight brand name. By 1914, they had a 5.1 liter four and a 6.8 liter six, electric lighting, and electric starter. This was followed by a V8, one of the first companies to offer one, in 1917.

Stearns retired in 1919 and sold his automotive company to J. N. Willys in 1925; Willys operated Stearns-Knight as a non-integrated affiliate of WillysOverland until 1929 when the F.B. Stearns Company was liquidated.