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Between 1850 and 1891, prototype and two fully operational steamed powered road vehicles were built in the state of Maryland.  This was followed by a fledgling automobile industry in Maryland with 22 different makes of automobiles being built  in the state between 1891 and 1942.  These automobiles iare listed in the following table:



Waldhauser & Grill

American & Manufacturing
Maryland Steamer
Carter Twin Engine
Hamilton Fire Truck
Lord Baltimore
New York Six


Havre de Grace

one prototype built
one vehicle built
one vehicle built




George and Anna Burns lived in the Bay View area of Cecil County, Maryland on a farm that George had inherited from his parents.  The Burns family had roots in that area since the early 1800s.  George and Anna had 12 children, ten of which lived to adulthood. 


Photo of the Burns Family with Spouses and Grandchildren
(George and Anna in center of photo)


Around 1896, George and Anna moved the family across the Susquehanna River to Havre de Grace where George opened a carriage shop.  The eldest son Walter managed the carriage factory, assisted by his brothers John, Reese, Alfred, and Charles.  The company was officially named the W.E. Burns and Brothers Carriage Works, but locals often referred to the company simply as “The Burns Brothers”.  Another brother named Ira did not go into the carriage business, but instead became a well known doctor and was a pioneer in radiology.

Walter Elsworth Burns

Jonathan Issac Burns

Reese Norris Burns Alfred Grant Burns Charles Brittingham Burns

The Burns Brothers had a reputation as being thrifty businessmen that were reluctant to part with their money.  The carriage works prospered and became a well known and respectable business selling carriages across the US and to some foreign countries.  The company’s sales brochure showed 44 different carriage designs ranging from a simple buckboard wagon costing $35 to fancy carriages costing over $1,000. 


Photo of Original Sales Brochure

Sample of Available Carriages from Burns Sales Brochure

The introduction of the  brochure stated:

“It has ever been, and always will be, our aim to give the very best value for the money, without any catch pinching or misrepresentation methods about it.  Whatever we sell you must be just as we represent it, if it costs us twice what you give us to make it so.”

Included in the brochure were photographs of the five Burns Brothers and the following text:

“With your kind permission, and a sense of modesty (on our part) allow us to present to you on the following pages our portraits, showing that we are comparatively young people, and with reputation at stake for future years in the business, and ever having before us the highest degree of perfection in carriage building.”

The company also built special order designs and specialty equipment, such as the hose carts for fire departments and ambulances for hospitals.  In addition, they sold a large line of carriage accessories.

By 1899, the company outgrew its original small building and moved into a four story, brick factory located in the town’s “business district”.  A fire started in a nearby building destroyed the factory in 1902 but another, larger four story factory was built to replace it.  The Burns factory was one of the largest buildings in the town at the time.

In 1908, the Burns Brothers adapted a gasoline engine to one of their carriages, and by the end of the year, had developed the Burns automobile.  Meanwhile, the company continued to manufacture carriages that they were so well known for.

The Burns was an assembled automobile, with engine and drivetrain parts manufactured by other companies installed on a Burns chassis and body.  It was a highwheeler design weighing 1500 pounds and having a 90 inch wheelbase.  No photos of the original Burns Highwheeler are known to exist.

The car was right hand drive with spark and fuel controls located in the center of the large, wooden steering wheel.  A large lever mounted to the right of the driver was used to control the vehicle speed.  A button on top of the lever was depressed and the lever could be adjusted to one of 25 positions.  The automobile had a top speed of 25 miles per hour. 

The car was powered by a two cylinder; air cooled engine producing 16 hp.  The engine was transversely mounted in the front of the vehicle.  Cooling of the engine was accomplished by integral cast flanges on the engine and fan blades around the periphery of the front mounted flywheel.  Engine power was transferred through a longitudinal shaft and universal joint to a friction disk driving a friction wheel and the dual chain drives.  Other features included brakes on the rear wheels and an 8 gallon, cast iron gas tank.



Photo of Burns Automobile Chassis with Body Removed


The body of the Burns sat on a wooden frame reinforced with 1½ inch steel plates.  The frame had a three point suspension supported by four elliptical springs.  A Timkin rear end and Timkin bearings were used.  The car came with 40 inch wheels on the front and 42 inch wheels on the rear, onto which were mounted solid rubber tires. 

The body had a rigid top supported by four supports.  A plush, 36 inch wide seat accommodated the driver and a passenger.  Armrests were mounted between the seat and front roof supports.  The interior was trimmed in leather and two brass lamps were mounted below the windshield on the firewall.  The car had running boards that led into long, sweeping front and rear fenders typical of carriage fenders of the time.  Later models had the fenders more closely following the curvature of the tires.  A small package tray was mounted on the rear of the vehicle for carrying items.  The Burns had a price of $800.00

The Burns was advertised as “The ideal car for physicians and businessmen” probably due to its high stance over the rutted dirt roads of the time.  It was displayed at the 1909 Auto Show in Baltimore, Maryland.  Articles on the Burns automobile appeared in several national automotive magazines including “Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal” and “MotorAge”.  The Burns was also included in the annual edition of new automobiles printed by “Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal” each year the automobile was produced.

A few months after the Highwheeler was debuted, the Burns Brothers introduced another model called the Transformable Coupe.  The Transformable Coupe used the same chassis as the Highwheeler, except that it came equipped with 36 inch wheels in an attempt to lower the vehicle.  For an additional cost, 30 x 3 inch wheels and pneumatic tires could be added as an option.  Below is a photo of the Transformable Coupe. 

Photo of the Burns Transformable Coupe


The Transformable Coupe had leather side panels and doors.  A windshield was hinged at the roof and retained by springs at the firewall.  The Burns Brothers advertised that the Transformable Coupe could be converted to a “summer coupe” in 15 minutes.  This was done by simply rolling up the side panels, removing the doors, and raising the windshield.  Releasing the springs on the firewall allowed the windshield to be pivoted up where it was then fastened to the underside of the roof.  

Sketch of Transformable Coupe in "Summer Coupe" Configuration


In 1910, the wheelbase of both models was increased to 96 inches.  The Highwheeler was powered by a 14 hp, 2 cylinder air cooled engine.  The Transformable Coupe was powered by a water cooled, 4 cylinder engine that produced 18 to 20 hp.  Cooling of the engine was done by thermo circulation.  The Transformable Coupe had a leather faced cone clutch and planetary transmission.  A center “sun” gear in the transmission was surrounded by several “planetary” gears, in essence making it a 2 speed automatic transmission.  The 30 x 3 inch wheels and pneumatic tires became standard equipment and the fuel tank was increased to 15 gallons.  The price for either the Highwheeler or Transformable Coupe remained at $800.00

The Highweeler model was discontinued in 1911.  The engine in the Transformable Coupe was changed to a 2 cylinder, air cooled engine with the cylinders cast in the block and a rating of 12 hp.  The rest of the automobile remained the same as the 1910 model and still had a price of $800.00.

In 1912, the wheelbase was lengthened to 100 inches and the car was powered by a 2 cylinder, air cooled engine with separately cast cylinders and producing 15 hp.  The engine was equipped with a Schebler carburetor and electrical power was provided by a Splitdorf magneto.  The transmission was changed back to a friction drive.  The front tires remained the same but the rear tires were widened to 3 1/2 inches.  The cost of the Transformable Coupe was still $800.00

The Burns Brothers discontinued production of their automobile after 1912.  It is believed that the antiquated “buggy design” inhibited sales of the car, which were described by one source as “dismal”.   This was at a time that cars were being designed longer and lower to the ground, and with greater speed.  Added to this, was the fact that a Ford Model T could be purchased for roughly half the price of the Burns.

It is not known why the company changed the engine and drivetrain so often.  It is possible that the Burns Brothers had a problem with parts suppliers or they simply could not come up with an “optimum” configuration that they were looking for.  There have been no production records located and it is not known how many Burns automobiles were produced.  It is likely that the Burns Brothers, being the thrifty and no nonsense businessmen they were, simply discarded all records of the car after it failed and never looked back.  Instead, they put all their energy back into continuing production of the carriages that had made them prosperous.

The Burns Brothers continued producing carriages until 1918 when Charles bought out his brothers interests and eventually converted the business to making horse drawn and motorized mail bodies for the US Postal Service.  Following the carriage business, each of the Burns brothers invested in real estate.  They built and operated several large rental properties that remain today.  The carriage factory was converted to apartments in 1918 and remained as such until a fire completely destroyed the building on Christmas Day 1960.