Owned by presidents, monarchs, and luminaries worldwide, Pierce-Arrow automobiles set the standard for luxury transportation from 1901 to 1938. Walking into the Pierce Arrow Museum, however, with all the bicycles and household items gathered in the entry gallery, visitors may still be surprised by the opulence lurking in the main showroom.
Started in 1865, the humble manufacturer transitioned from bicycles to steam-powered cars in 1900. But those models precipitated a steep fall in sales, until the following year when Pierce began manufacturing elegant cars with internal combustion engines. By 1904, Pierce was producing the Great Arrow, the company’s most popular and successful model.
Although the Pierce-Arrow is the museum’s focus, the collection showcases cars and memorabilia from many other manufacturers. Enthusiasts will get a kick out of the 1902 Buffalo electric Stanhope, a car that could reach the blistering pace of 14 miles an hour for up to 50 miles on one charge! And the 1948 Playboy on display (no relation to the Hefner lagomorphs) is one of only 97 ever produced before the company folded in 1951.
The centerpiece of the museum is a full-scale model of a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed filling station. Designed in 1927, the station was never built because of its tremendous cost, and because of Wright’s high royalty demands for every one constructed. The two-story structure features fireplaces and a copper roof as well as gravity pumps with no numbers or typical gauges on them. Instead, the clear glass pumps were designed in a geometric prairie–style to indicate the amount of fuel dispensed. The museum’s founder secured the rights to the plans in 2002 and built the station to accompany the impressive car collection.
Like many luxury car companies, Pierce-Arrow struggled during the Great Depression. It was bought by Studebaker in 1928, but Studebaker declared bankruptcy in 1933, and Pierce-Arrow suffered the same fate in 1938. But the spirit of the iconic motor company lives on, and a visit to the Pierce-Arrow Museum will definitely leave you aquiver.