George Pierce made his fortune producing everything from ice-boxes to bird-cages. Quick to spot a market opportunity, he went into bicycles to take advantage of the 1880's cycle boom, and in 1900 turned his attention to cars. His first prototype was steam powered, but this engine was discarded in favour of a single cylinder De Dion engine. This went on to power the Motorette which went into production in 1901.
After a couple of years, Pierce began to use his own engines, while his cars moved rapidly upmarket, with the Arrow in 1903 and $4,000 Great Arrow the following year. Their profile (and sales) were raised by success in long-distance races such as the Glidden Tour; Pierce moved production to a new factory and renamed the company Pierce-Arrow.
Production was still not up to Ford levels, with around 1,000 cars a year being built, but most were pre-sold before they left the factory, and at least two were selected for the U.S. Presidential fleet. George Pierce died in 1910, but he lived to see his final business venture succeed. Underlining the luxury market for Pierce-Arrow cars, the company ran a chauffeur training school, to ensure a supply of safe and competent drivers for its big-engined limousines, the 415-cu in (6.8-liter) 38, 524.8-cu in (8.6-liter) 48 and 823.8-cu in (13.5-liter) 66, with prices up to $8,200.
But it was not only limousines. Pierce-Arrow also started to make trucks in 1910, which saw it through World War I, and provided a solid, profitable base on which the prestigious car line could be based. But after the war, the demand for trucks declined, and Pierce-Arrow found itself in a difficult position. Forced to pay dividends to shareholders, rather than invest in new models, its sales began to fall and the company made a loss of $8 million in 1921. There was one new car in 1924, the 286.88cu in (4.7-liter) 80, and the firm commissioned Laurence Pomeroy to design an all-aluminum version. But the 80 itself was neglected, and sales again soon dropped off.
In 1928, Pierce-Arrow was taken over by Studebaker, which brought in a much-needed new engine for the straight- eight 133 and 143, while a new V 12 followed in 1932. It could not have come at a more inappropriate time, with sales down to a low of less than 2,700, which led to another multi-million dollar loss.
Studebaker collapsed in 1933 and Pierce-Arrow was bought by a group of Buffalo businessmen. Under the new regime, different projects were tried, such as the radically-streamlined Silver Arrow and a new line of trailer-caravans. But the money was running Ollt, and car production ceased altogether in 1938. The V12 engine lived on, however, and was used to power fire engines right up to 1970.