The Fossmobile was invented by George Foote Foss in 1897. It is the first Canadian example of an automobile built with an internal combustion engine. While the Fossmobile was never mass-produced for the Canadian automotive market (see automotive industry), it is an example of ingenuity and innovation.
George Foote Foss
The Fossmobile was Canada’s first successful automobile with an internal combustion engine. It was designed and fabricated by George Foote Foss (born 30 September 1876 in Sherbrooke, Quebec; died 23 November 1968 in Chateauguay). Foss owned his own shop in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where he offered machining, blacksmithing, and bicycle repair. During a trip to Boston, Massachusetts in early 1896 he developed an interest in automobiles after riding in an early electric powered vehicle. Inspired by his experience and the belief that he could construct a more efficient vehicle, Foss began working on a four-horsepower, single-cylinder automobile. He completed his prototype in the spring of 1897. This automobile, later dubbed the Fossmobile, was the first of its kind to be built in Canada.
Photographs are the only remaining record of the Fossmobile’s original design. Research into historic car design and efforts to rebuild the Fossmobile have also revealed details about the vehicle’s original specifications and unique features. The Fossmobile had a wooden box-like body that measured 56 inches (1.44m) long and 24 inches (.6096m) wide. The overall height was about 64 inches (1.63m) from the base of the wheels to the top of the seat back. It weighed approximately 750 pounds (342 kg). The chassis was made from old bicycle frames and the wheels were taken from horse drawn racing sulkies or carts.
Unlike other automobiles from the 19th century, the Fossmobile was designed and constructed with a front-mounted engine; other cars had an engine located beneath the seat. The position of the Fossmobile's engine created less vibration for riders and facilitated maintenance.
The automobile’s vertically mounted engine was a single cylinder, four horsepower, and air-cooled engine. It had a gravity fed gas line that led to a mixing valve with an interior poppet assembly. The poppet moved up and down, inside the mixing valve, to an open and closed position, based on the intake compression created from the engine. The drivetrain was made up of sprockets and chains running from the engine to a center jackshaft, and then on to the rear differential, all of which helped the automobile move. The Fossmobile had two forward gears (no reverse) and could travel up to 15 mph (24 km/h). There were no designated brakes, only a metal-on-metal clutch plate on the center sprockets.
Another unprecedented component of the Fossmobile’s design was its gear shifter, which was mounted to the vehicle’s tiller style steering column. The tiller also had the spark setting control and throttle. To start the engine there was a leather pull strap in the automobile’s cockpit, which led to a re-coil start pulley, mounted to the engine crankshaft.
Marketing and Production
George Foss successfully drove his automobile throughout Sherbrooke. He also gained the attention of burgeoning figures in the automotive industry. However, he never marketed or mass-produced his vehicle. In 1900, he turned down an opportunity to invest with Henry Ford who was in the early stages of planning the Ford Motor Company. Additionally, he declined an offer from William Farwell, President of the Eastern Townships Bank, who offered to finance the start of an automobile manufacturing business. Foss reportedly declined this financing due to his inexperience.
In 1901, Foss moved to Montreal, Quebec, where he worked as a salesman for Crestmobile, an automobile that was built in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Foss would eventually sell the original Fossmobile for $75 in 1902. There is no known information about the buyer or the whereabouts of the original Fossmobile.
Late Life and Honours
George Foss would become the owner of Chester Lines and acquire exclusive distributor rights for Crestmobile until they ceased operations in 1905. By 1912, he returned to his previous profession as a machinist, and would manufacture parts for the First World War.
Foss’ inventiveness and early automobile design was officially recognized in the 1960s. He became an honorary member of the Vintage Automobile Club of Montreal. In addition, he was awarded an honorary membership to the Antique Automobile Club of America. He and Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin are the only two Canadians to receive this honorary membership. In 1997, a monument to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Fossmobile was erected in the City of Sherbrooke, Quebec.
The Fossmobile Replica
Through Fossmobile Enterprises, the descendants of George Foote Foss are actively working to document and share the story of the Fossmobile and its place in Canadian automotive history. Efforts are currently underway to build a tribute/replica of the original Fossmobile, which will be donated to the Canadian Automotive Museum.