The Badger and F.W.D. Four-Wheel Drive Automobiles

Badger The “Scout Car” on a 1,500-mile test by the Army in 1912 arriving at Atlanta The test car with a more refined gas tank mounting, and with a toolbox and fenders added. A test car being given a workout through a mud hole and up a bank.
Clintonville, Wisconsin, designed a front drive axle with steerable hubs containing universal joints possibly as early as 1906. The axle was followed up with a transfer case and driveshafts suitable for a four-wheel drive vehicle. During the summer of 1907 patent applications (the patent drawings can be seen below) were filed for both devices and then the pair went to work to built the first car. By 1908, they had tested a steam-powered four-wheel drive car that was a success other than issues with its power plant.
Zachow and Besserdich then built a second gasoline-powered prototype that turned out to be a complete success. With a working vehicle, the next step was to find financial backing that was eventually arranged with Dr. W.H. Finney, and the three incorporated the endeavor late in 1908. The first car nicknamed the Battleship,powered by a 55-60 h.p. Continental four-cylinder engine is reported to have been built in 1910 and can be seen in the lead photo above at the Ward House in Clintonville (it has survived).
Dr. Finney soon withdrew his financial support, which was replaced by Walter A. Olen, who became the President of the Company. The Badger name was dropped and the cars that followed were renamed the Four Wheel Drive Automobile. The name was next shortened to the F.W.D. and between 1910 and 1911 the company built at least six of the four-cylinder 45 h.p. 134-inch w.b. machines.
After building the small run of cars, F.W.D. decided that a better market for its product might be in the emerging trucking field. At about the same time, the company found out about a cross-country test that the Army was going to run to test the feasibility of using trucks for some of its needs. It has been reported that F.W.D. was able to arrange for Army Captain A. E. Williams to come to the factory for a test drive of one of the cars. As a result of Williams visit, the Army purchased one of the F.W.D. chassis’ for the test. With a body mounted on the back, it was named the Scout Car. It proved the benefits of all-wheel drive by outperforming the other three two-wheel drive trucks in the tortuous 1,500-mile test early in 1912.Captain Williams can be seen in the passenger seat of the F.W.D. test truck below.
.After the Army test, The Automobile reported in its May 9, 1912 issue that Captain Williams was heading to Sparta, Wisconsin for summer maneuvers and further testing of the trucks. There the Scout Car joined two of the recently finished new F.W.D. Truck models for a test in the field under conditions similar to those encountered during a war.
The summer test was favorable, and the Army soon purchased more of the trucks. With the outbreak of World War I just around the corner both the F.W.D. Truck and the Four-Wheel-Drive Jeffery Quad, built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, would prove the worth of the vehicles in the conflict.

Jim Allen · April 10, 2018


The steam Badger and the Gas Badger (later known as the Battleship) are one in the same car. I can say that having studied hundreds of images at the FWD archive and seeing (and driving ) the Battleship in current times. The steam powerplant was removed and the Continental replaced it. Badger also outside sourced a body., making it a fully formed automobile. It’s still a glorious car!
The image shown above of the test car climbing the hill was taken in the winter of 1911. Captain A.E. Williams was making the rounds of car manufacturers on a research trip for the Army… who owned just a handful of trucks at that point. He was taken for a “wild ride in the countryside” by FWD’s test driver and that convinced him the Army needed four-wheel drive. As a result, the Army purchased a stripped down touring car chassis, one of the last of the seven FWD made, added an escort wagon box and called it a truck. Early the next year, it participated in a 1,500 mile test convoy a showed the value of four-wheel drive. That test car in the image is none other than the Nancy Hank, a car still in the FWD museum. After FWD’s focus switched to trucks, the Nancy Hank (nobody remembers why it had that name) was used as a parts truck until the early 1960s.
The Spyker was not the first 4x4 car, but probably the first practical one. Too bad only one was built. Otto Zachow took a lot of design cues from it after reading about it in a copy of Scientific American and patented the first steerable front axle in the US. There were also the Cotta, and the Twyford cars, as well as the Van Winkle. All of which predated the Badger. Twyford predated Spyker, but used platform axles and up to about 7 cars were built. Cotta also predated Spyker but was a very light chain drive car. Numbers produced was low, perhaps as many as 10. Cotta went on to form Cotta transmissions, ironically used in the FWD trucks. The actual first 4x4 was the 1824 (that’s Eighteen-Twenty-Four) Burstall and Hill steam coach, though the four-wheel drive was mostly incidental.
As to the FWD/Oshkosh connection, Bill Besserdich left FWD to help form Oshkosh with another ex-pat from there. Many say Besserdich, the B-in-Law of Zachow, was the true engineering brains behind the FWD and he went a long way towards proving that when developing the first Oshkosh, “Old Betsy.” Neither Besserdich nor Zachow were long with FWD. Walter Olen took the company into the big leagues and it soon outpaced the two country blacksmiths. Olen was a bit of a hard-nose and could be tough to work for but he made FWD a success.
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