When Thomas Selden sailed from England to Connecticut in 1638, his descendants covered the width of America – and by the early 1900s stretched from New York to Pierce County.
Sydney Selden, born in Tacoma in 1902, would go on to a retail career that saw him sell everything from carpet to World War II blackout blinds. By 1957, he settled on upscale furniture, and his Selden’s Furniture stores jumped from downtown Tacoma to Lakewood and University Place before finally settling in Fife.
“I started working for the company in 1987, when I was 18,” said Selden’s grandson Scott Selden. “Grandpa lived next door, and he'd come by in the early morning, wake me up and say he needed a little help.
“Sometimes I was paid, and sometimes it was just what you did for a family business.”
The New York Seldens, meanwhile, were led by a Civil War veteran whose wild horse inspired him to create transportation that didn’t require four legs.
George Baldwin Selden was a union cavalryman assigned a mount so wild that it ran into a tree and fell over dead. Selden began work on a road buggy with a diesel engine, and in 1895 received a 17-year patent on the horseless carriage.
For more than a decade, Selden got royalties on every car sold in the United States.
“Grandpa loved family history, and what George Selden did using the patent fascinated him,” Scott said.
Henry Ford challenged the patent, and the case went from court to court, with George Selden always defending his company. Win or lose, the cases were always appealed to a higher court – and in 1911, Ford won a decision Selden didn’t challenge.
The patent had only one year left, anyway.
Selden’s automobile sales had peaked: 1,216 in 1908, 1,417 in 1909, 1,407 in 1910 and 1,678 in 1911.
By 1913, the company began building trucks instead of cars, selling them to the military before World War I. By 1933, the company was sold, the last New York plant closed.
And in Pierce County, Syd Selden’s son, Stanley, helped run the store and inherited his father’s love of family history.
“Dad wrote a book for the family about the family history, and traced it back to the 1200's in England,” Scott said. “He wrote about George Selden, and learned there were still a few of his cars left – six in all.
“From then on, he wanted one. He found one in Anaheim, owned by Frank Currie, who’d entered it in the Great American Race. Currie wouldn’t sell, but he and dad stayed in touch.”
The history on Currie’s car only made Stanley Selden want it more. Originally purchased in Kansas City in 1909 and driven for at least 30 years, the car wound up on a farm in the ‘40s.
With part of the chassis was removed, what was left was attached to a water pump - and the Selden engine ran that pump.
An automobile restorer found it there in the late ‘70s, bought it and took it to California. In 1991, Currie saw it, bought and restored it.
“Dad saw it in ’93 and loved it,” Scott said. “I saw it first in 1998, when the Great American Race came through Tacoma. It’s a cute little car.”
In 2002, Stanley Selden retired, and Scott became the family’s third president and CEO of Selden’s Furniture.
The economic downturn that began in 2007 was underway when Stanley told his son the Selden car was for sale.
“He'd always talk about that car with such passion. Dad wanted it, and when he finally got the chance to buy it, he and the owner agreed on a price of $200,000,” Scott said. “I was reluctant – the car was worth much less on the open market, but dad didn’t want it to hit the market.
“I could see in his eyes, he had to have it. So the business bought it.”
The car was delivered, and Stanley immediately had it detailed and refurbished with new brakes and as many period parts as he could find.
“Dad drove that car everywhere. It had no power steering, so it was like wrestling a bear on the road, but he loved showing it off,” Scott said. “It went into the LeMay Museum for a year, but he would take anyone who was interested down to see it.
“One time security came running in because he'd started it up – and it’s about as loud as an airplane. Dad just smiled.”
Stanley was diagnosed with cancer early this year and died on July 3. At a private memorial service at his home, Scott and others drove the Selden roadster around the property, making sure everyone got a ride.
“About three weeks ago, we brought the car here to the store,” Scott said. “ was a little nervous about how customers would take it. What was a car doing in a furniture store? I didn't want it to look like we were bragging about our past.
“But it's part of history, and we put it in an area with a lot of photos of the family and business. People are interested. We have people stop by to see it all the time. If they want a picture taken with it, we're fine with that.”
Will it stay there?
“We’ll bring it for community events,” Scott said. “It’s a car, and it needs to be driven.”