Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid to the Abner Doble Papers, 1885-1963
BANC MSS 77/183 c  
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Abner Doble papers
    Date (inclusive): 1885-1963
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 77/183 c
    Creator: Doble, Abner
    Extent: Number of containers: 4 cartons, 8 oversize folders, 19 volumes Linear feet: 8.55 84 digital objects
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The Abner Doble Papers consists of correspondence, drawings, reports, patents, photographs, and notebooks documenting Doble's role in the development of 20th century steam technology. Collection also includes papers relating to the Doble family, several of whom were also engineers and inventors, including Doble's grandfather and namesake Abner Doble, his father William Ashton Doble, and his brother Warren Doble.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html.
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Abner Doble papers, BANC MSS 77/183 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Alternate Forms Available

    Digital reproductions of selected items are available.

    Separated Material

    Photographs transferred to the Bancroft Pictorial Collections
    Identifier/Call Number: (BANC PIC 1961.008-.009)

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    Doble Steam Motors Corporation
    Automobile industry and trade--California.
    Automobiles, Steam--Design and construction.
    Steam-engines--Design and construction.

    Administrative Information

    Aquisition Information

    The Abner Doble Papers were given to the Bancroft Library by Mrs. Alene Doble, Warren Doble, and William A. Doble in 1961. Additions were made in 2005 by the Geisel Library.


    No additions are expected.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Juliet Demeter in 2003.


    Abner Doble was born in San Francisco, California on March 26, 1890. At the age of eight, he began an apprenticeship at the Abner Doble Company, the factory founded by his grandfather and namesake. His father, William Ashton Doble, was inventor of the Pelton-Doble Water Wheel and chief engineer for the Pelton Water Wheel Co., which eventually merged with his family's business. Abner Doble designed and built his first steam car while a student Lick High School in San Francisco. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1910-1912, but left college in order to focus his attention on the development of steam automobiles. In 1912 he developed the Doble Model "A" in Waltham, Massachusetts, soon followed by the Doble Model "B" roadster. In 1915 Doble drove the Model "B" to Detroit where the General Engineering Company offered to put it into production. Renamed the Doble-Detroit, his car was introduced at the New York auto show of 1917. Although over 10,000 orders came in for the model, wartime demand for steel put manufacturing on hold and only 30 Doble-Detroit cars were ever produced.
    In 1920 Doble and his brothers organized the Doble Steam Motors Corporation in San Francisco with the intention of developing the finest steam car ever built. Doble modeled his factory, which later moved across the bay to Emeryville, on the Rolls-Royce plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. The cars manufactured by Doble were luxury vehicles guaranteed to run for 100,000 miles. Their reputation for fine performance spread and orders came in quickly. The production process was costly, as well as enormously time consuming, given the amount of attention paid to nearly every detail of the car's manufacture. As a result of Doble's high standards, the company manufactured only 42 cars between 1923 and 1931. Finally, unable to secure adequate financing, Doble Steam Motors went bankrupt in 1931. Despite the company's failure, steam enthusiasts still consider the Doble steam car of this era to be among the best ever produced.
    After the collapse of his company, Doble became consultant to several firms engaged in the development of steam technology. In Germany he helped to develop steam powered trains, buses, trucks and boats for A. Borsig, Co. and Henschel & Sohn. He worked on steam trucks and railcars for Sentinel Waggon Works in England and steam buses for A & G Price, Ltd., New Zealand. In 1946 Doble was retained by Nordberg Manufacturing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin to develop a steam power plant for city buses. This engine, known as the Ultimax, was the culmination of Doble's nearly four decades of experience in steam technology. Another firm later attempted to employ the Ultimax for use in railway locomotives. Finally, in 1950, McCulloch Motors of Los Angeles hired Doble as consultant on the development of the Paxton Phoenix, a steam powered luxury car fitted with an Ultimax engine. Once again, lack of funding forced the company to abandon the project and the car was never completed.
    Doble continued to work as a consultant throughout the 1950's. One of his last projects was for Charles F. Keen of Milwaukee on the development of the Keen steam car in 1956.
    Abner Doble died in Santa Rosa, California on July 16, 1961.


    1890 Born March 26, San Francisco, CA
    1898-1905 Apprenticeship at the Abner Doble Company, San Francisco, CA
    1910-1912 Attends Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
    1912 Develops the Doble Model A, Waltham, MA
    1914 Develops the Doble Model B Roadster, Waltham, MA
    1916 Introduces Doble-Detroit Steam Car, Detroit, MI
    1920 Doble Steam Motors factory opens in San Francisco, CA
    1923 Factory moved to Emeryville, CA
    1929-1931 Consultant to A & G Price, Ltd., New Zealand
    1930-1936 Consultant to Sentinel Waggon Works, Shrewsbury, England
    1931 Doble Steam Motors closes
      Consultant to A. Borsig Co., Berlin, Germany
    1931-1934 Consultant to Henschel & Sohn, Kassel, Germany
    1946-1948 Consultant to Nordberg Manufacturing Co., Milwaukee, WI
    1950-1956 Consultant on development of Paxton Phoenix steam car for McCulloch Motors Corporation, Los Angeles, CA
    1956 Consultant on Keen steam car, Milwaukee, WI
    1957 Consultant on monotube boiler for Charles W. Tadlock, St. Louis, MO
    1961 Died July 16 in Santa Rosa, CA

    Scope and Content

    The Abner Doble Papers, 1885-1963, consist of correspondence, drawings, reports, patents, and notebooks documenting his role in the development of twentieth century steam technology. The collection also includes papers relating to his family, several of whom were engineers and inventors, including his grandfather and namesake Abner Doble, his father William Ashton Doble, and his brother Warren Doble.
    Materials include drawings and engineering notebooks for Doble's early automotive designs, as well as records of the Doble Steam Motors factory in Emeryville, California where Doble and his brothers manufactured what are still considered to be among the finest steam cars ever made. Also included are papers relating to Doble's career as consultant to several firms in the U.S., Europe, and New Zealand where he worked on the development of steam trucks, buses and locomotives. The collection also includes records of Doble's consulting work in the early 1950's for the Paxton Engineering Division of McCulloch Motors Corporation, Los Angeles, to develop the Paxton Phoenix, a steam car fitted with the Doble Ultimax engine. Family papers include materials relating to the Abner Doble Company, San Francisco, and Doble's father William Ashton Doble, inventor of the Doble-Pelton Water Wheel.
    This collection includes the Doble Family Papers, 1912-1960, C-B 827, which were integrated with the Abner Doble Papers in 2002.