Gilbert S. Waters (1869-1903)

Written By Marissa Farrell

Gilbert S. Waters built one of the first buggymobiles.  Born in 1869, Waters grew up in New Bern around the buggy industry and worked in the family business, G. H. Waters Buggy and Carriage Factory. 

After learning that the Duryea brothers, from Springfield Massachusetts, had built an automobile in 1893, Waters believed he could build a buggymobile. When traveling in Baltimore, Waters had seen the horseless carriage and envisioned a profitable future in making buggymobiles in New Bern.  Few others agreed, and Waters failed to persuade his father, a banker, or even other bankers, to invest in his horse-less contraption.

In 1899, Waters decided to act alone.  He built his first buggymobile in 1900.  It was compact (only seven feet long, three and a half feet wide, and four feet tall), and it was steam-powered with only one cylinder and a water-cooled engine. 

On its first drive down Main Street it reached, what was considered then, an impressive twelve miles an hour.  Although the new buggy fascinated Waters’s father and other bankers, they did not consider it a profitable enterprise.  One local banker commented, “Buggies without horses will never be practical, and they would be too expensive and dangerous anyway.”   But Waters kept on.  Despite his excitement with the project and his determined effort to gain financial support, Waters invention would remain only an expensive toy. 

A reluctant—and possibly dejected–Waters returned to the family buggy business.  Three years later, Waters built a modified buggymobile that reached thirty-five miles per hour and used forty miles to the gallon.  At the age of seventy, Waters traveled to New York City with his 1903 modified.  The radio program, We The People, invited Waters to come with drive his now thirty-six-year-old auto in the city streets.  The buggymobile had an inglorious start; it stalled at Fifth Avenue.  The next morning, however, Waters fired up the engine over the radio for all the listeners to hear. 

The 1903 buggymobile is kept in the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.