Making the Car and Carriage Museum: A Look at Our Past and What's Driving Our Future

Making the Car and Carriage Museum: A Look at Our Past and What's Driving Our Future
August 13, 2020 By: Kim Cady, Assistant Curator, Car and Carriage Museum

Making the Car and Carriage Museum: A Look at Our Past and What's Driving Our Future

Exterior of the Car and Carriage Museum, 2019. Photography by Ben Matthews.

Seven years after the carriage museum opened in 1990, Director DeCourcy McIntosh and the board of trustees decided to expand the gallery. This decision aimed to provide a greater viewing area for the Frick family carriages and Helen Clay Frick’s automobiles, a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, and a 1931 Lincoln Model K Dual Cowl Phaeton. Before the 1997 expansion, the carriage house, a 20’ x 30’ building constructed in 1955, displayed all 15 Frick-owned carriages. This space provided storage for the collection but did not allow for interpretation or a way for visitors to view the vehicles safely. Also, the carriage house did not provide space for the exhibition of Helen’s cars, stored at the time in the Haller House garage, what is today the Café at the Frick.

During this time, working with the Pittsburgh Historic & Landmark Foundation, industrialist and antique automobile collector G. Whitney Snyder was developing a museum focusing on the history of transportation in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. G. Whitney and his brother, William Penn Snyder III, were the grandsons of William Penn Snyder. W. P. Snyder founded the Shenango Furnace Company in 1906 to manufacture pig-iron and coke, both components used to make steel. G. Whitney and W.P. Snyder III both held governing positions in the Shenango Furnace Company. They were active in philanthropic causes in the Western Pennsylvania region, including healthcare and education initiatives and the arts. In addition to their philanthropy, the Snyder brothers were active and avid antique automobile collectors and restorers. G. Whitney’s love and appreciation of automobiles began at a young age when, on his 16th birthday, he received a 1937 American Bantam Roadster as a gift.

G. Whitney Snyder with his 1937 American Bantam Roadster. Image courtesy Sewickley Heights History Center.

G. Whitney Snyder and William Penn Snyder III riding in a pedal car. Image courtesy Sewickley Heights History Center.

In the 1950s, the Snyder brothers worked together to locate an 1898 Panhard et Levassor Tonneau purchased in France by Howard Heinz, son of H. J. Heinz, that same year, and believed to be one of the first cars to travel the roads of Pittsburgh. Found behind a false wall in the basement of a property owned by the Heinz family, G. Whitney Snyder restored the car to operable condition. He renewed its customized finish of ketchup red body, pickle green spokes, and mustard yellow trim. In April 1979, the restored Tonneau exhibited at the Old Post Office Museum on the Northside. When the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum opened in that space in the late 1980s, G. Whitney Snyder, a trustee of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, began plans for a museum honoring Pittsburgh’s rich transportation history. 


Howard Heinz with his father in the first of the Panhard et Levassors he brought from Paris, standing before the Heinz mansion, Greenlawn, in 1900. Photo courtesy The Good Provider: H. J. Heinz and His 57 Varieties by Robert C. Alberts.

Restored Howard Heinz Panhard et Levassor Tonneau. Panhard et Levassor, Paris, France. Tonneau, 1898. Frick Art & Historical Center, 1997.7. Gift of G. Whitney Snyder. Photography by Richard Stoner.

The Station Square Transportation Museum opened in October 1985 in Bessemer Court at Station Square, repurposing a boiler house that belonged to the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. In addition to a collection of vehicles—cars, carriages, and motorcycles—the small 60’ x 40’ retrofitted building exhibited transportation memorabilia and historical photographs until the late 1990s when the property at Station Square underwent a redesign for commercial development.

Station Square Transportation Musuem article in All Aboard, 1986 Vol. V No. 1 March. Image courtesy Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

It is fortuitous then that G. Whitney Snyder, President of the Station Square Transportation Museum, was looking for a new home for his collection of antique automobiles while the Frick was looking to expand its carriage house museum. In 1996, the Frick hired the Pittsburgh architect firm of Landmark Design Associates to further develop the existing carriage museum constructed in 1955. The firm had previously worked with Mr. Snyder on the Station Square Transportation Museum. The expansion tripled the display area for the cars and carriages, adding an L-shaped structure adjacent to the existing carriage house. The remodeled carriage house also included a theater space that provided an orientation video on Pittsburgh’s automobile history for visitors.

Car and Carriage Museum exterior, 1997.

The Car and Carriage Museum project was completed in 1997. In that year, the Station Square Transportation Museum gifted the restored Heinz Panhard et Levassor Tonneau and a 1930 Ford Model A Coupe to the museum. Virginia and Donald Burnham gifted a 1903 Baker Electric Stanhope that same year, and Violanda LaBate donated a c.1916 Chevrolet Model 490 touring car. In addition to the Panhard and Model A Coupe, G. Whitney Snyder lent numerous vehicles from his collection to the museum, including a 1910 Brush Model 10 Runabout, c. 1924 Peugeot Quadrilette, and 1931 American Austin Coupe, providing the museum with an excellent selection of brass and pre-war era automobiles. At Mr. Snyder’s death in 1999, he bequeathed the fourteen brass and pre-war vehicles on loan to the museum, including a 1924 Auto Red Bug Flyer and 1912 Daimler Landaulette. The museum acquired additional vehicles from local collectors. In 1999, Laurie Graham donated a 1909 Stanley steam car Roadster, and Sam McClung gifted a 1910 Buick Model 10 Runabout. The museum received two vehicles from William Penn Snyder III, a 1922 Lincoln Model L 104, and a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Salamanca Town Car that had belonged to his grandmother. The new variety of vehicles, coupled with the additional gallery space, allowed the museum to develop temporary exhibits providing visitors with a greater understanding of transportation history. 

Stanley Motor Carriage Company, Newton, Massachusetts. Stanley Steamer Model R Roadster, 1909. Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.1. Gift of Laurie Graham in memory of George McKay Schieffelin. Photography by Ben Matthews.

Baker Motor Vehicle Company, Cleveland, Ohio. Electric Stanhope, 1903. Frick Art & Historical Center, 1997.14. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Burnham. Photography by Richard Stoner.

Société Anonyme des Automobiles et Cycles Peugeot, Beaulieu, France. Quadrilette Torpedo, c. 1924.Frick Art & Historical Center, 1999.1.11. Gift of the estate of G. Whitney Snyder. Photography by Richard Stoner.

Motorcycle exhibition, 2006.

Driving Through the Depression: On the Road in '34 exhibition, 2010.

An expansion of the Car and Carriage Museum in 2015 sought to broaden the museum’s audience and outreach. The former carriage house (the 1955 building) became state-of-the-art classrooms for school and adult learning groups. This new space is a place for thousands of students who visit the Frick each year through school programs and camps to explore primary sources, discuss the collections they are seeing, and make art. The classrooms also offer a space for adult learners to more deeply explore topics related to the permanent collection and temporary exhibits through lectures, panel discussions, and workshops. 

Summer camp in the Education Center, 2016. 

An addition to the car gallery (the 1997 addition) accommodated the carriages removed to make room for the new classrooms. Although the inclusion of the Education Center eliminated the orientation theater, Pittsburgh and the Automobile, along with other videos and stories, can be found on iPads within the gallery, which provide visitors with an opportunity to engage with the permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Today, the Car and Carriage Museum interprets the social history of transportation and how the carriage and later access to the automobile transformed the way people worked and traveled, providing access and opportunity to many. Recent exhibitions in the Car and Carriage Museum focused on the automobile’s role in fighting for women’s right to vote and another on specialized carriages used for sport and leisure. In the coming months and years, the museum will continue to develop exhibitions that will provide visitors with a greater understanding of transportation history and its relevance today. In April 2021, we will examine the art of hood ornaments and their use in personalization and reflective individualism in the exhibition Cast in Chrome. The following spring, we will focus on the role the automobile played in the lives of African Americans traveling in and out of the Jim Crow South during the Great Migration. Future exhibitions include labor relations in the auto industry with a focus on Pittsburgh and Western PA made cars, and an exploration of the importance of car culture in the Latinx community. While designed to promote self-guided tours, the museum does offer docent lead tours of permanent and temporary exhibitions for those visitors who want to gain more insight. While these public tours are currently on pause for visitor and staff safety during the coronavirus pandemic, we look forward to bringing our interpretive staff back to the galleries for future exhibitions.

Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile's Role in Women's Suffrage exhibition, 2018. Photography by Ben Matthews.

The Hunt for a Seat: Sporting Carriages in the Early Twentieth Century exhibition, 2019. Photography by Ben Matthews.

Thank you for traveling along with me as we looked back at the development of the Frick’s Car and Carriage Museum. I hope you will continue to follow us as we venture and navigate our road of diverse transportation exhibitions. 

The Car and Carriage museum reopens to members and essential workers on Saturday, August 15, and to the general public on Saturday, August 22. Free, timed tickets are required for entry, and can be reserved up to three days in advance of visit date. 
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