Carlos F. Hurd was a reporter that had gained international notoriety in 1912 for his series of interviews with survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. He was no stranger to disaster, to stories of human suffering and to gut wrenching stories of family tragedy. Nothing, however, prepared him for coverage of the vicious race riots in East St. Louis during the summer of 1917. His initial story published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on July 3 opened with, “For an hour and a half last evening I saw the massacre of helpless Negroes at Broadway and 4th Street, in downtown East St. Louis, where black skin was a death warrant.”
His first person report continued with shocking detail. The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of sport. There was a horribly cold deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it.” Additional articles provided gruesome and proven details; a person nearly beheaded by an assailant with a butcher knife, a twelve-year old girl pulled from a trolley, people shot as they desperately tried to escape by swimming the Mississippi River, a mother beaten to death in front of her children.
Even though the incident took place before certification of Route 66, I wrote of it in my latest book, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales from Bloody 66. The riot in East St. Louis was not an isolated incident. There was a similar event in Springfield, Illinois in the same period, and a few years later, an even more horrendous riot occurred in Tulsa, the city where Cyrus Avery, the man heralded as the father of Route 66, owned businesses. These prejudices, these racial hostilities would be woven into the fabric of Route 66 development and it would affect everything from tourism to trucking, motels to restaurants.
In Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities in America, passenger cars crowded the plaza and travelers such as Emily Post shared the road with ox carts.
The years between 1890 and 1930 were an incredible period of dramatic technological advancement and societal upheaval and evolution. A tsunami of immigration was transforming the very fabric of the country. The era of the western frontier was drawing to a close but there were still violent clashes with Native Americans such as the incident at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in December 1890. The labor movement was dawning, and that too led to violent clashes.
One of these was an incident now known as the the Bisbee Deportation. On July 12, 1917, in Bisbee, Arizona, about 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters, and citizen bystanders were attached members of a deputized posse. The deputies forced more than 1,200 men into cattle cars, at gunpoint, and shipped them to New Mexico without food, water, luggage or anything more than what they carried in their pockets and the clothes on their back.
Bicycle mania swept the country during the 1890s but in the shadows the automobile was about to take center stage. Ransom E. Olds was experimenting with steam and gasoline engines. The Duryea brothers had began building automobiles for sale, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus gave one of their “motor wagons” top billing over the albino and fat lady. The first automobile race in America took place in 1898, people were driving coast to coast by 1905, and in that year a Stanley steamer was driven to a new speed record that was just short of 150 miles per hour.
Between 1909 and 1930 the number of horse drawn vehicles manufactured plummeted but while automobile production soared. Traffic lights and motels, service stations and garages became a part of the roadside culture. In a span of less than thirty years air travel evolved from rudimentary experimentation to becoming an integral component of the modern military and even coast to coast passenger service.
A few points to ponder. Wyatt Earp of OK Corral fame died in Los Angeles in 1929. Geronimo was photographed in a Cadillac. Between 1898 and 1930 there were more than 1,500 automobile manufacturing companies launched. Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail by ox cart, and the National Old Trails Road by automobile. The movie theater was introduced and those movies became talkies.
These heady times are being woven into a rich and colorful tapestry, my latest presentation series – In The Beginning. It promises to be informative, fast paced and to inspire some interesting conversation. It is a bit of time travel to what is, perhaps, one of the most amazing forty year period in our nations history. Curious? Contact us today to schedule a presentation for your event, festival or fund raiser.
In August of 1902, William Murphy and Lemuel Bowen, the men with the money that were backing Henry Ford’s second automotive manufacturing endeavor, had reached their limits. They were exasperated. Rather than produce a vehicle that could be sold, Ford was focused mostly on experimentation, and the building of racing cars to test those experiments. Murphy and Bowen were wanting a return on investment.
Henry Leland had learned the art of precision machining while working as an apprentice for Samuel Colt, the firearms manufacturer. He perfected his skills with a variety of endeavors before applying them to automotive applications. In the summer of 1901, he contracted with Ransom E Olds of Olds Motor Works to produce an advanced new engine for the 1902 Oldsmobile. That fledgling partnership came to an abrupt end when a devastating fire at the Olds Motor Works almost destroyed the company.
The Dawn of Cadillac
Leland was well know in the burgeoning automotive manufacturing industry in Detroit. After the fire at Olds, Murphy and Bowen retained Leland as a consultant as they needed an evaluation of the manufacturing facility and equipment. Their plan was to ascertain a value of the company, and sell it to recoup a portion of their investment. Leland proposed a different direction; keep the company and use the engine he had designed for Olds to jump start production.
Ford was incensed. He made the directors an ultimatum; dismiss Leland or pay him $900 and remove his name from the company immediately. The directors chose the latter and the rest, as they say, is history.
The company was reorganized and named after the founder of Fort Detroit, the French explorer La Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. On October 17th, 1902, the first Cadillac was taken for a test drive.
The links between Henry Ford and Cadillac were not an unusual story during the infancy of the American auto industry. As an example, the driver who took that first Cadillac for a spin was Alanson P. Brush. In 1907, Brush launched his own automotive company. Shortly after this endeavor failed in 1911, he joined General Motors as a consulting engineer. In this position he was responsible for development of the Oakland line.
The remnants of the Brush Runabout Company were sold by Frank Briscoe, the primary financial backer of the endeavor, to Benjamin Briscoe, his brother, who was launching the United States Motor Company to compete directly with GM. Benjamin Briscoe was the initial money man behind David Buick, and partner in Jonathan Maxwell’s Maxwell-Briscoe Company. Maxwell had launched his automotive career with Olds Motor Works.
With the collapse of United States Motor Company, Maxwell-Briscoe was reorganized as Maxwell. In 1924, Walter Chrysler acquired control of Maxwell and the Chrysler was born.
Leland would stay with Cadillac after its acquisition by General Motors. At the advent of WWII he started a company to manufacture aircraft engines. This company would undergo a rather dramatic transition soon after and begin producing automobiles under the Lincoln name. When that company slipped into receivership, it was acquired by Henry Ford who promptly placed his son, Edsel, at the helm.
The infancy of the American auto industry was a wild swashbuckling battle of tycoons, shysters, and daring entrepreneurs. It was a time of dramatic societal upheaval where fortunes were made and lost at dizzying speed. It was an amazing time, an era when a man like Henry Ford could loose two companies, build a third, and in the process launch not one but two automotive dynasties.
Who first took to the roads in a horseless vehicle will most likely always
be a bit of a mystery. Likewise with exactly who first pinned the term automobile to the horseless carriage. Even the year is an unknown but by the early 19th century a few daring, or crazy, visionaries and inventors were terrorizing their neighborhoods with steam powered carriages. However, it would be the mid 1880’s before the concept of a road vehicle driven by any means other than the horse was given serious consideration.
An argument could be made that the American automobile industry was born in 1877. That was the year George B. Selden obtained patents for a horseless carriage with internal combustion engine. Interestingly enough, he did not actually build an automobile, or even a functioning prototype, until 1905 when a lawsuit necessitated that he do so.
Front Street, latter Andy Devine Avenue in Kingman, Arizona. In 1915, Edsel Ford stayed at this hotel during his odyssey along the National Old Trails Highway. Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts.