And while technology and the need to be first are to blame for the relentless churn of
news media, technology also allows us to preserve and recall our historical narrative.
The Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities partnered on a project called Chronicling America. Their goal is to digitally preserve (and make searchable) newspapers from 1690-present.
I happened across the project while conducting legislative research.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it killed its productivity.
After a quick search for ‘automobiles’ I found myself engulfed in a story from 1921 regarding a meeting held in DC between 21 states to determine if horsepower was an appropriate method to determine a vehicle registration fees.
Enjoying that story so much I searched for more. Advertisements, legislative notices, editorials; these papers were full of amazing automotive stories that most of us, our parents, and our parents’ parents would never have heard.
Below are stories and ads that caught my attention. Feel free to take your own journey down history lane, just make sure you sit aside enough time.
Stories and images:
This first story below titled, Across the Continent in an Automobile, comes to us from the Sunday Edition of The Call, July 2, 1899.
The story is about Mr. and Mrs. John D. Davis and their attempt to make a 4,000-mile journey from New York City to San Francisco in an automobile. According to a book written by Curt McConnell the couple encountered car trouble, legal battles over debt and eventually lost sponsorship from The Call (CA) and the Herald (NY) newspapers.
While no one knows for certain if they made it to California, I applaud them for being a national catalyst for the idea that the automobile could replace the nation’s locomotive system as a means to move across the country.
EVs of old!
The first is a story about the Electric Wheel, a three-wheeled electric tricycle that could carry multiple passengers and had a 500 mile range…if carrying enough ‘concentrated battery solution.’ That sounds completely safe.
The Electric Wheel had a top speed of 35MPH, which was plenty fast for traveling around cities in the early 1900s. In my reading I came across some of the first automobile traffic laws which were proposed by local city governments. Many contained a common speed limit of 12MPH. This applies to all forms of transportation.
This next image is an ad that appeared in a 1922 edition of the New York Tribune. It highlights the size benefits of an electric truck over that of a horse drawn one in a very congested New York street.
The higher the horsepower, the higher the fees.
This next story caught my attention for its mention of horsepower.
In the early days of the automobile many lawmakers were discussing how people could prevent theft and reflect ownership. During a meeting of 21 states it was proposed that a registration process should be agreed to and that the fees to facilitate such a process should be based off the vehicle’s horsepower and weight.
Could you imagine putting your car on a dyno at the local DMV? Talk about Pay-to-Play.
Looking forward is central to moving forward. But any good driver knows, glancing in the rear view can make you more aware of what’s around you.
So take a minute, look behind you. History is rich with automotive stories.