It was a highway in name only. In that summer of 1915, Edsel Ford recorded in his travel journal that July 15 was a “good days run.” He had driven from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, a distance of just over 153 miles on the National Old Trails Road.
He had left Williams that morning and arrived at the Brunswick Hotel in Kingman around midnight. Some of his friends that were traveling with him to California had to return to Seligman. They had broken a spring on their Stutz.
With the luxury of hindsight Edsel’s journey was rather astounding. But he was not alone. More than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition in California that year arrived from outside the state, and they drove.
But consider this. Arizona had been a state for only three years. Fourteen years prior pioneering automobile manufacturer Alexander Winton had attempted a coast to coast drive. He made it from San Francisco to the deserts of Nevada on the western slope of the Sierra’s. The utter lack of roads was the reason given for the aborted adventure.
The first transcontinental trip by automobile was completed in 1903. But it took Dr. Horatio Jackson 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes to make this historic drive.
Incredibly just five years later a New York to Paris automobile race was staged. Even more amazing, some of the drivers managed to actually finish the race. This was in spite of obstacles such as being stranded in the Gobi Desert while awaiting the delivery of gasoline by camel, and having to seek a blacksmith in Siberia to make a gear.
I have long been intrigued by the years between 1890 and 1930. Aside from the previous thirty years, that was probably the most dramatic period of transition the world has ever known.
Buffalo Bill Cody purchased a Michigan, an automobile manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1903. He was a pioneer in the good roads movement. A few years later he was a board member on the National Old Trails Road Association. Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior, was photographed behind the wheel of a Cadillac. A car named for him was being manufactured in Enid, Oklahoma.
By 1919 more people owned an automobile in the United States than had indoor plumbing. Studebaker, a legendary company had been a leading producer of horse drawn vehicles, was still building wagons unto 1920. And yet, in 1913 they were the third largest manufacturer of automobiles in the country. Stagecoaches were operating in Mohave County, Arizona until 1916, one year after Edsel Ford’s adventure.
The word motel didn’t exist in 1918. And ten years later motels, auto courts and similar lodging options were sprouting up along the highways faster than sunflowers in Kansas.
I recently developed a presentation entitled Era of Innovation. With great pleasure I can say that its debut was well received by a very august audience of professions.
So it is time to take it on the road. First, a pay per view on Zoom and Eventbrite. Next, I am offering it to organizers of events. Interested? Drop me a note for more details.