Pierce-Arrow was an American automobile manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, which was active between 1901 and 1938. Best known for its expensive luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also manufactured commercial trucks, fire trucks, camp trailers, motorcycles, and bicycles.
A failed attempt to build a steam-powered car was made in 1900 with license from Overman, but by 1901 Pierce built its first single-cylinder two-speed (no reverse) Moterette with the engine licensed from de Dion. In 1904, a two cylinder was made named the Arrow.
In 1903 Pierce decided to concentrate on making a larger, more luxurious auto for the upscale market, and the Pierce-Arrow automobile was born. This proved to be Pierce's most successful product, and the solidly-built cars with powerful engines gained positive publicity by winning various auto races. During this period, Pierce's high-end products were sometimes advertised as the Great-Arrow. In 1908 Pierce Motor Company was renamed The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.
In 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrows to be used for state occasions, the first official automobiles of the White House. An open-bodied Pierce-Arrow carried Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding to Hardings 1921 inauguration.
In 1914, Pierce-Arrow adopted its most enduring styling hallmark when the headlights of the vehicle were moved from the traditional placement to either side of the radiator into flared housings molded into the front fenders of the car. This gave the car an immediate visual identification from the side; at night it gave the car the appearance of a wider stance. Pierce trademarked this placement and it remained in place until the final model in 1938. Hence it is only beginning with the 1939 model year that other American car manufacturers put the headlights in the fenders. Through 1914 Pierce-Arrow also produced a line of motorcycles.
The Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many Hollywood stars, corporate tycoons; royalty of many foreign nations had at least one Pierce-Arrow in their collections. In American luxury cars it was rivaled only by the Peerless and Packard, which collectively received the accolade Three P's of Motordom. Industrial efficiency expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth (Cheaper by the Dozen) extolled the virtues of Pierce-Arrow, in both quality and in its ability to safely transport his large family.
Pierce-Arrow advertisements were artistic and understated. Unusually for automobile advertising, the image of the car was in the background rather than the foreground of the picture. Usually only a portion of the automobile was visible. The Pierce-Arrow was typically depicted in elegant and fashionable settings. Some advertisements featured the car in places an automobile would not normally go, such as the West and other rural settings, a testament to car's ruggedness and quality.
In 1928, the company was put up for sale as a result of weak sales in the 1920s. The South Bend, Indiana automobile company Studebaker acquired a controlling interest in Pierce-Arrow. Studebaker President Alfred R. Erskine had hoped that adding the prestigious product to its lineup would allow Studebaker to compete with the likes of Packard and Cadillac for a portion of the luxury car market. Under Studebakers ownership, Pierce maintained virtual autonomy over its product and product development. Approaching bankruptcy in 1933, Studebaker sold out their interest in Pierce-Arrow to a group of Buffalo businessmen.