By on July 19, 2013
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Like so many other cities in the American North East, Buffalo’s days as a great manufacturing center appear to be over. With a few notable exceptions, industry has moved on and the result has been closed factories and hard times. Buffalo must change if it hopes to survive and, like so many other cities these days, it is working to redefine itself. That doesn’t mean that it will forget its roots, however, and well it shouldn’t. It is, after all, the town that gave birth to the legendary Pierce-Arrow and thanks to one local collector it even has a museum to celebrate that fact. Now that museum is set to be more impressive than ever.

At the turn of the last century, Buffalo was poised to take advantage of its position as the Eastern most city on the Great Lakes. Steamships brought the wealth of middle America to the city’s wharves and industry thrived here. One of the more successful operations was that of George N. Pierce and as far back as the 1870s his company had been turning those raw materials into household goods. When the bicycle craze hit, the Pierce company also began to manufacture those and by 1901 had built their first automobile as well. It was a modest one cylinder machine but it was a beginning and just 8 years later the company had risen to such prominence that President William Howard Taft ordered two of their Pierce-Arrows for official duty at the White House.

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Photo courtesy of:

Throughout the first three decades of the 20th Century, the Pierce-Arrow was essentially an American Rolls Royce. These fine, distinguished automobiles served American Presidents from Taft to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the diplomats and dignitaries of foreign countries, including the Shah of Persia, as well as the Tycoons and sports stars of the day. John D. Rockefeller owned a Pierce Arrow and so did Babe Ruth. Wherever the rich and famous needed to go, they were carried there by the Pierce-Arrow.

Times changed at the end of the 1920s, however, and with the sales of luxury cars way down the company was in trouble. It was purchased by Studebaker and under the control of that famous South Bend Indiana brand, Pierce-Arrow managed to soldier on for a few more lean years. When Studebaker went bankrupt in 1933 Pierce-Arrow was sold into receivership and to make end meet the company continued to produce much less extravagant vehicles, a line of gas stoves, ice chests and travel trailers, but as the effects of the Great Depression lingered the company finally faltered and went bankrupt in 1938.

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Photo courtesy of:

Despite the company’s ignoble ending, the Pierce-Arrow has an enduring reputation of excellence and exclusivity and Buffalo celebrates its connection to this storied brand with its own museum. Located close to the waterfront in downtown Buffalo at 263 Michigan Avenue, the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum is open between 11AM and 4 PM Thursdays through Sundays. Adult admission is $10, $8 for seniors and $5 for children ages 6 to 17 years old. The facility is also available for banquets and special events and I noticed a nice, fully stocked bar that was, unfortunately, not open at the time of my visit.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The collection itself was not as large as I would have imagined it, but the cars that were there were all very fine examples. It came as a surprise to me that not everything in the museum was a Pierce-Arrow, there were many brands represented and the collection included some cars built as late as the mid 1960s. The bulk of the collection on display currently, however, is pre World War II. The museum is also in the process of an ongoing construction project that will make it two and a half times as large as it is now. The centerpiece for this new part of the facility is a life size version of a gasoline station designed by architect Frank Lloyd-Wright in 1927. Our tour guide took us into the sealed portion of the museum to show us the progress on this ongoing project and I must say it was quite amazing. Because Frank Lloyd-Wright and the gasoline company he contracted with had a dispute about the amount of royalties he wished to be paid on every copy of the station, the project was shelved and never actually constructed, but had it been it is certain that it would be a national land mark today. Other parts of this additional space will house more autos, bicycles and other displays related to the Pierce-Arrow Company.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

The new facility is indeed an impressive sight and when the work is completed the museum will truly be a show piece that should attract many tourists to this beleaguered city, but as the work is not complete I came away from the museum a little disappointed. To be sure, the vehicles on display were all very fine but I had hoped that the museum would have more cars and memorabilia on display now. Another problem, as I see it, is the fact that the collection is not very cohesive and does not really tell a story as one walks through it. It wasn’t until well after the fact, when I came home and began looking at the museum’s website to put the final touches on this article, that I truly understood that the reason for this hodgepodge of material was because the museum honors other cars with a Buffalo connection as well. I missed that originally because of the focus on Pierce-Arrow and think I would have had an easier time understanding why there seemed to be so many unrelated displays if it was spelled out a little more clearly. Hopefully, these issues will be reconciled when the addition is completed.

As I said at the top of the article, Buffalo is working hard to recreate itself and the Pierce-Arrow Museum is a real step in the right direction. Without a doubt, the sneak peak at the new facility I was given tells me that this will soon be a national caliber museum. To be sure, it will never match the size and scale of some of the other, better endowed auto museums in the United States and abroad, but it doesn’t need to. It has a strictly defined mission, to honor the Pierce-Arrow and the city that gave birth to the brand. In that, I think it does a good job and is worth a visit. I look forward to the grand opening of the expanded facility and know that the museum will soon be one of the crown jewels of a resurgent Buffalo. Come and check it out.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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15 Comments on “Buffalo’s Pierce Arrow Museum Will Hit The Mark With Expanded Facility...”

  • avatar

    My grandfather’s first job was working as a mechanic at Pierce-Arrow. He was fortunate to have been promoted to test drive the cars with engineers due to his skills. He later turned his experience at PE to open his own garage in Hamburg, NY. He always spoke well of PE, and no kind words for Ford. When my grandfather talked bad about a Ford car, he would assign a personal attribute to it, such as “Henry could never build a good car”, or “Henry’s brakes were a poor design”, etc.

  • avatar

    Not only the famous, but the infamous had Pierce-Arrows. My father remembered seeing Lizzie Borden, accused axe murderess, chauffeured around Providence, R.I. in the 1920s in her Pierce-Arrow. Lizzie and her sister split their murdered father’s fortune down the middle, getting about $270,000 each in 1893. When Lizzie died in 1927, her estate topped a million dollars. Funny, those early Fords Challenger2012’s grandfather complained about were often called “Tin Lizzies” after her.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m trying to imagine the value of $270K today over 100 years after foreign banksters took control of our nation’s currency and ruined it.

      Curiously, the official BLS gov’t inflation calculator only goes back to 1913.

      • 0 avatar

        1913 – that’s the year the Federal Reserve was established. I use gold – $20/ounce in 1893, $1316.60/ounce as of Friday the 19th produces a multiplier of 65.83. $270,000 = $17,774,100 today. If you’re old enough to remember buying comic books for a silver dime, it’s best not to think about it.

  • avatar

    About the Frank Loyd Wright gas station. They actually did build one in Cloquet, Minnesota. It is still open today, and still fueling and servicing vehicles. 55 years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, they did, but it is not the same FLW design as presented and modeled for the Pierce Arrow Museum.

      The MPR article got it wrong when it claimed that … ” the distinction of being the only gas station ever designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.” Should have stated… ‘only ‘built’…

      I have visited the station as well as his only ‘built’ skyscraper in Oklahoma.

      Thanks for the comment, Mike.

  • avatar

    Thomas, you were not here for the 2001 Pierce-Arrow 100th anniversary meet held by the Pierce-Arrow Society. Jim Sandoro, who owns the museum in Buffalo, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to have the Society have its annual meet in Buffalo, befitting the 100th anniversary of the brand.

    There were 175 cars here – it was the largest annual meet held by the society up to that time, and I think it’s still the largest they every had. Here are some links to photos:

    Oh – and I hope you have visited the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House complex at Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue – ? It’s stunning. And the original Pierce-Arrow dealership – now a First Niagara Bank branch and fully restored (with one of Sandoro’s cars in the showroom) is just two blocks away at Summit and Main.

  • avatar

    Those final Silver Arrows from the early to mid ’30s were some of the most gorgeous cars of the period, and that period had the most gorgeous cars in history. They are achingly beautiful.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    In ’02 I took a road trip to the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Museum. I spent the might in Buffalo on the way home and toured the Pierce Arrow Museum before heading home

  • avatar

    It should be noted that the E.R. Thomas Motor Company was located in Buffalo their car the Thomas Flyer won the race around the world in 1908. The story is immortalized in the book The Great Race and outlines the heroics of mechanic George Shuster an employee for Thomas who drove the car. The factory building can be seen on Niagara Street in Buffalo and is the home to Rich Products Corp.
    Trico, the inventor of the windshield wiper was also founded in Buffalo and the family foundation…Oshei foundation continues as the largest philanthropic foundation in the City.

  • avatar

    An update – After this story hit the net Friday, Jim Sandoro, the man behind the museum contacted me and explained that they have significantly more material in their collection, including entire cars, located in buildings close to the site. Much of it will go on exhibition when the new addition is completed. He genrously offered me a guided tour of that part of the collection as well and I will try and take him up on his offer in the next couple of weeks.

    That’s just another example of the kind of people we have here in Buffalo. It really is a special town.

  • avatar

    Thanks Tom for reviewing our museum, All your comments were spot on. The Fall opening of the new 35,000 square foot addition and the Buffalo Filling Station by Frank Lloyd Wright hopefully will draw 40,000 plus people to the museum per year. We have recently acquired or had donated other transportation collections. We will announce those later this year . Currently we are able two or 3 times per day to take folks into the construction site and give them a sneak preview of the Filling station. Our new web site has days and hours we are open, as well as guided tour information. Jim Sandoro Founder and Executive Director , Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum

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