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 at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.
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.
A history teacher pushes the student to memorize facts and dates. In the process they often instill a life long perception that history is as dead and boring as an insurance seminar about actuary tables. A historian provides relevance. They illustrate how the events of 1920 play a role in the events of 2021.
Did you know that in 1918 and 1919 Americans rebelled against the wearing of face masks during a global pandemic? Did you know that influenza blunted President Wilson’s role in the establishment of the League of Nations? Did you know that as a result, harsh reparations were imposed upon Germany and this provided fertile ground for the rabid nationalism espoused by Adolph Hitler?
Did you know that Studebaker celebrated its centennial in 1952? Did you know that the company founded its automobile manufacturing on the production of an electric car designed by Thomas Edison? Did you know that the Wood’s Dual Power introduced in 1917 was the world’s first production hybrid automobile?
Did you know that the motto “In God We trust” resulted from an act of Congress passed on April 22, 1864? Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892, but ‘under God” was not added until 1954?
A gifted historian is also a teacher and an entrancing storyteller. They are also an artist that masterfully presents history as a seamless flow of interconnected events. This is accomplished by dusting off the bones, adding flesh and bringing history to life.
History teachers are common. Historians are a rarity. A gifted historian, the artist, is a rarity. They are as scarce as a cool breeze in the Mojave Desert during the month of August. Seldom is a generation blessed with more than a gifted historian or two. Ken Burns is an example of the gifted historian.
I am a storyteller. And I am a bit of a historian. As to being gifted, well, that is not for me to decide.
But I do derive tremendous satisfaction from bringing history to life. And I suffer from an incurable obsession to instill a fascination for history. That, my friends is at the foundation of Jim Hinckley’s America.
Telling people where to go. Inspiring road trips. Blending this with living history. Each and everything that I do is built on these pillars.
To date this passion to free people from the perceptions of history instilled in high school has manifested in nineteen books. The topics have been diverse. Ghost Towns of the Southwest. The Big Book of car Culture. Travel Route 66. Checker Cab Manufacturing Company: An Illustrated History. The Route 66 Encyclopedia.
In 1915, Edsel Ford and his college buddies set out on an epic adventure from Michigan to the Panama Pacific Exposition. Photo Historic Vehicle Association
And it has led me to push beyond my comfort zona and harness new technologies. This is made manifest in the Sunday morning Coffee With Jim program that is live streamed on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page, our YouTube channel, the use of Zoom for presentations, and 5 Minutes With Jim, our audio podcast.
But wait until you see what we have planned for the future! A weekly live interactive audio program. A new video series. New partnerships. And a new book!
One of the overlooked chapters from the story about the dawning of the American auto industry is how it went from being a circus sideshow curiosity to multi-million dollar industry in less than two decades.
“Take the children to see the fad before it passes.” Even astute entrepreneurs with vision can be wrong when it comes to predicting the future. These words were spoken by Montgomery Ward, the pioneering department store tycoon, in 1896 when the circus came to town with promotional posters that gave a Duryea Motor Wagon top billing over the albino, bearded lady and dog boy. It was the dawn of a new era, a time of such dramatic transition that within 20 years every aspect of American society had been transformed.
Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiler of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.
Within seven years of Ward’s recommendation, shorty after the turn of the century, an automobile had been driven from coast to coast. David Buick, Henry Ford, Ransom E. Olds, and dozens of swashbuckling captains of industry were establishing automotive manufacturing empires worth tens of millions of dollars. By 1906 a steamer built by the Stanley brothers had been driven to nearly 150 miles per hour, a new record, on Ormond Beach in Florida. In 1909, 828,000 horse drawn vehicles and 125,000 automobiles rolled from American factories. Two decades later a mere 4,000 horse drawn vehicles were manufactured.
What fueled such a dramatic societal evolution? Marketing. Advertisement. Promotion. An advertisement for the 1900 Porter Stanhope featured a small lithograph type print of the car and a heading in bold print, The Only Perfect Automobile.” Several hundred words of descriptive prose followed. It was groundbreaking, after all in the May 1897 issue of Motorcycle, editor Edward Goff said, “The manufacture of a motorcycle (or automobile) is in a position to take advantage of more free advertisement than any other industry.”
As early as 1903, even though the automobile was still somewhat of a novelty, a tsunami of competition in the industry necessitated advertisement, marketing, and promotion if an automotive manufacturer was to survive. Enter Ernest Elmo Calkins, owner of an advertising agency that chose artistic standards that showcased cars in attention getting scenes rather than lengthy word pictures. Within a few years Calkins & Holden, with the luxury auto manufacturer Pierce Arrow as a primary client, had become the first company to exclusively develop automotive advertising campaigns.
As automotive technologies were being advanced with stunning speed, it was appropriate that the next stage in advertising and marketing would utilize something new as well as exciting. Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey, Cal to his friends, launched his career in automotive marketing with Maxwell-Briscoe. His promotional stunts were worthy of P.T. Barnum. Then in 1907 he contracted with Lubin Film Studios, a pioneering cinematography company that specialized in the making of nickelodeon films for theaters in the northeast, to film his stunts. The automotive commercial was born.
Automobile manufacturers sold dreams made manifest in steel and glass. Automobile marketing companies simply sold the dream. They transformed the automobile from sideshow curiosity to necessity. They replaced the horse by instilling a hunger for horsepower. The art of selling the sizzle rather the steak, that is the fuel that drove the evolution transformed America, and the world.