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Finding Aid to the Doble Steam Motors Corporation Photograph Collection, 1898-ca. 1963 (bulk 1917-1935)
BANC PIC 1961.008-.009  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Chronology: Life of Abner Doble
  • Scope/Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Doble Steam Motors Corporation photograph collection
    Date (inclusive): 1898-ca. 1963
    Date (bulk): 1917-1935
    Collection Number: BANC PIC 1961.008-.009
    Creator: Doble Steam Motors Corporation
    Extent: 3 albums (198 photographic prints) and 1 box (185 photographic prints) 60 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: Photographs documenting the steam automobiles and engines created by Abner Doble and Warren Doble, especially as part of the Doble Steam Motors Corporation. Pictured are completed automobiles as well as engine and auto parts, photographic copies of design drawings, and some views of factory facilities.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: 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], Doble Steam Motors Corporation photograph collection, BANC PIC 1961.008-.009, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Alternate Forms Available

    Digital reproductions of selected images are available.

    Related Collection

    Title: Abner Doble papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1885-1963
    Identifier/Call Number: (BANC MSS 77/183 c).
    The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    Doble, Abner--Archives
    Doble, Abner--Pictorial works
    Doble, Warren--Pictorial works
    A. & G. Price--Pictorial works
    Doble Steam Motors Corporation--Pictorial works
    Henschel & Sohn--Pictorial works
    Sentinel Waggon Works--Pictorial works
    Automobile factories--California--Oakland--Photographs
    Automobiles, Steam--Design and construction--Photographs
    Automobiles, Steam--Photographs
    Automobiles--Design and construction--Photographs
    Locomotives--Design and construction--Photographs
    Steam-engines--Design and construction--Photographs
    Trucks--Design and construction--Photographs
    Frost, C.K.
    Huntington, C. L.
    Williams, Roy A.
    Morton & Co. (San Francisco, Calif.)
    Doble, Abner
    Hohmann, Eduard J.

    Administrative Information

    Aquisition Information

    The Doble Steam Motors Corporation photograph collection was received with the Abner Doble papers (formerly called the Doble family papers), which were given to the Bancroft Library by Mrs. Alene Doble in 1961.


    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 (chiefly Warren Doble, with early involvement of John and William Doble) 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 their company, Abner and Warren Doble became consultants to several firms engaged in the development of steam technology. In Germany they helped to develop steam powered trains, buses, trucks and boats for A. Borsig, Co. and Henschel & Sohn. The Dobles also worked on steam trucks and railcars for Sentinel Waggon Works in England and steam buses for A & G Price, Ltd., New Zealand. In 1946 Abner 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.
    Abner 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.

    Chronology: Life of Abner Doble

    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
    1931 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


    The Doble Steam Motors Corporation photograph collection consists of photographs received with the Abner Doble papers. Images document the steam automobiles created by Abner Doble and his brother Warren Doble, especially as part of the Doble Steam Motors Corporation. Some images depict earlier steam cars designed and built by the brothers, including the Doble-Detroit of 1915-1917. Pictured are completed automobiles as well as engine and auto parts, photographic copies of design drawings, and some views of factory facilities. Other images relate to vehicles produced by other companies with whom the Dobles contracted, namely, A. & G. Price (New Zealand), Henschel & Sohn (Germany), and Sentinel Waggon Works (Great Britain). Work for these companies included engines and parts for trucks, buses, boats, and trains.
    Most photographs are contemporary with the production of the vehicles pictured, and appear to have originated as part of the corporation's records. A few photographs are of Doble cars at a date much later in the 20th century, and were presumably added to the collection by a family member.
    Photographs by various professional photographers are present. Many are by Roy A. Williams or the C.L Huntington Photographic Corporation (both of Oakland, Calif.), with others by Morton & Co. (San Francisco, Calif.) and C.K. "Jack" Frost (Oakland, Calif.) A few images are by Eduard Hohmann (Berlin, Germany).