Pennington vehicles being constructed at the Motor Mills, Coventry

Edward J. Pennington was an American inventor and designer of transport.

Born Joel Edward Pennington in 1858 in Ohio, USA, Pennington first apprenticed at the woodwork machine tool makers A. Fay & Company until the early 1880s. From 1883 he began to work up his characteristic showmanship by moving from town to town offering fanciful and exciting opportunities in the way of establishing new businesses. Most, if not all of these would ever amount to anything, and Pennington would normally vanish after convincing local bankers to commit large deposits up front.

In the early 1890s, he began registering patents for air-ships, and by 1893, patents on ‘motor vehicles’ – being two versions of motor-bicycles under his company name of The Motor Cycle Company of Cleveland. Still ever the con artist, Pennington’s reputation began to receive greater press coverage in America, so he needed new pastures to promote his ideas, and he saw England ripe for the picking.

In 1895, he met up with Harry J. Lawson in London, a promoter with similar ideas of getting rich quick by cleverly conning gullible people of great wealth. This time however, Lawson met his match and was completely taken by the presence, showmanship and his grand automotive designs, and so paid him an astonishing £100,000 for the British rights to his patents.

Lawson gave Pennington a floor at the Motor Mills, and members of the Humber Company staff began to create vehicles to his designs. The orders began to flood in, yet Pennington was unable to fulfil such orders, always hard to reach, and the vehicles far from being perfected mechanically.

Ultimately he and Lawson fell out, and Pennington had left Coventry by 1898. Lawson later took legal action for still using the patents that he had sold him, so Pennington, facing similar charges from all corners, fled back to America.

Back on homeland he attempted to pick up where he left, but struggled to have the same impact and by this time was a known fraudster. He died suddenly in 1911, and although he was thought to have amassed a fortune in all his numerous dealings, was said to have been buried in a ’12 dollar grave’.
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