THE 1911 RUNABOUT DIFFERED FROM THE RACEABOUT IN FOUR WAYS: RAISED SEATS, RAISED STEERING WHEEL, A RUDIMENTARY BODY, AND A RELOCATED THROTTLE PEDAL.
f historic preservationist Clifford Zink could travel back in time, he’d have to make at least three stops in New Jersey’s capital city. He’d want to land in 1845, at the site of what is now Waterfront Park, when Peter Cooper started a rolling iron mill. “They were rolling the first I-beams in America,” says Zink. “I’d want to walk around that factory and see the steam- powered operations.” Next, he’d want to get off the time machine in 1849, to see Brooklyn Bridge
designer John A. Roebling & Sons build the largest wire rope factory in the world. Today, Roebling Market occupies that space; Zink offers an historic tour of Roebling Iron Works during the annual Art All Night event in Trenton. His time travels wouldn’t be complete without a stop in 1912 at the Mercer factory on Whitehead Road. “They made about 500 cars a year—that’s about two a day—by hand,” says Zink. “They assembled the chassis, built the motors, tested them on blocks, did the upholstery, assembled and painted them
and then test drove the vehicle.” In business for 15 years, the Mercer Automobile Company manufactured 5,500 vehicles; only 140 of the classic cars have survived. Many were hauled from barns and fields, melted and scrapped for metal during World War II. The Roebling Museum has just published Zink’s book, Mercer Magic: Roeblings, Kusers, The Mercer Automobile Company And America’s First Sports Car. Now a collectible antique, the Mercer auto was designed to be raced and won competitions across the country. FEBRUARY 2016 PRINCETON MAGAZINE
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