History Of The Automobile – 1899
The following piece is a look at the history of the automobile as seen through the eyes of the writer back in 1899. The article appeared in the San Francisco Call newspaper and looks at the emergence of the automobile from horse drawn carriage and the bicycle. The biggest obstacle in those days was the lack of good roads which were often nothing more than wagon trails outside of the big towns and cities. It is no doubt an interesting read, so enjoy.
The modern history of the automobile in America reads like a fairy tale. The already immense business of building and operating horseless vehicles of all kinds seems almost to have come into being in a single night, like Aladdin’s magic palace.
Not quite a year ago the less than thirty automatically propelled carriages then owned in the United States were viewed by the general public with doubting curiosity rather than approbation. Today an aggregate capital of nearly 5,400,000,000 is invested in this still rapidly growing industry in New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia alone. The eighty companies which are engaged in manufacturing the 200 different varieties of automobile conveyances now in use find it impossible to supply the daily increasing demand for their product, and the general public has become so thoroughly impressed with the merits of this innovation upon established methods of locomotion that it is confidently prophesied that the horse, the most abused and most nearly deified animal in the civilized world— will be in five years time, completely superseded and looked upon as a luxury instead as a necessity. It is true that this same idea was entertained when bicycles came into general use a few years since, and it has proved correct to a great degree, since equestrianism and drives for pleasure have never regained the popularity which was theirs previous to the introduction of the fascinating “safety.”
Listen to period audio below – Reuben Haskin’s Ride on a Cyclone Auto – 1903
The utilitarian range of the bicycle, however, is not wide. Personal exertion more or less severe is necessary to its propulsion, and as a burden bearer it has been a success only in a very limited degree. Therefore the horse has continued to defile our streets, deafen our ears with the clatter of his hoofs and fill space on our crowded thorough fares.
The automobile, however, is destined to revolutionize all this. Practical demonstration has proved its worth, and it is only a question of a very brief time before it will be freed from the few faults which now militate against its absolute perfection. While France and England have been for the past ten years experimenting with and for the past five years utilizing the automobile, they have not produced a machine of this kind which is comparable for lightness, strength and speed with those now being exported by some American firms.
Once convinced of the practicability and desirability of the idea American invention proceeded to conquer the difficulties presented. The ordinary American road is very different from the smooth and well-kept highways of European countries, and one of the problems to be solved was to overcome the automobile’s aversion to grades and persuade it to travel along paths not specially prepared for its accommodation.
The result of study and experiment is that we have now a racing machine weighing less than 1000 pounds, which is guaranteed to make sixty-five miles an hour on a smooth road and maintain a speed of thirty-five miles an hour on any grade not exceeding 20 percent. In 1890 M.M. Serpollet an Archdeacon attempted an automobile speed journey from Lyons to Paris, and consumed ten long days in the process.
While France has a special liking for gasoline as a motive power and England—too fond of horses to readily exchange them for mere machines — prefers steam, and so far applies the principle more to dray-age and trucking than to pleasure vehicles, America is far ahead in the electrical line.
The ideal machine is noiseless, odor-less and free from vibration, but while the electric auto-carriage is all this it is immensely heavy, because of the use of storage batteries, and can run only a limited distance without recharging. When electrical hydrants, such as were exhibited at the Madison-Square Gardens recently, are placed at convenient intervals along our streets and roads these drawbacks will be done away with and the electric vehicle will undoubtedly distance all competitors in the estimation of the public. Ed – You can see here that the electric powered cars we still haven’t mastered today, were the fore-runners in the auto business in the states way back then.
Of the six motor powers now in use — electricity, gasoline, steam, compressed air, carbonic acid gas and alcohol — only the first three have so far been successful, and each of them has its disadvantages. They are all necessarily applied in a cumbersome way, and the question of simplification and lightening of weight is engrossing the attention of inventors and manufacturers. Superheated air, which was used successfully as a motive power in New York in the early sixties, has not, so far as known, been experimented with in relation to this particular mechanism.
Compressed air has been applied to heavy trucks, but the air when released from pressure takes up heat so rapidly that pipes and valves freeze solid and a “re-heating” apparatus has to be provided, which adds materially to the general clumsiness of the outfit.
Gasoline exploded in an engine cylinder by means of an electric spark, the engine being of what is known as the four-cycle variety, gives very satisfactory results, and the gasoline automobile is extremely convenient for general use. The objections to this power, however, are that there is always a slight vibration due to the constantly recurring explosions, and always a slight odor of gas combustion, while the vehicle is never self-starting, the driver being obligated to turn by hand the wheel controlling the piston until the explosions begin.
The cost of running a gasoline motor is astonishingly light, five gallons of gasoline sufficing to carry a 77-pound phaeton for 100 miles. Steam is also cheap, and electricity, when the demand for it becomes as great as the future promises, will be cheaper still. Ed – They had the right idea over 100 years ago.
Chicago has signalized her belief in the superiority of the latter power by following New York’s example and instituting an electric cab system, which enthusiasts declare will prove a boon to her citizens. Over a hundred electric cabs are in daily use in New York, and 200 more are already ordered, so highly is their cheap, comfortable and rapid service appreciated.
They Saw The Potential Of Electric Over 100 Years Ago
In view of these facts the Western city feels no hesitation in embarking a large amount of capital in the enterprise, which is to be in full operation within her borders this month. The cost of maintaining storage batteries for a year varies now from $50 for light buggies to $300 for heavy omnibuses, the whole cost of operation being three-quarters of a cent to four cents per mile.
Although automobilism is generally looked upon as a new idea, it is in reality far older than our railways, and did its best to supersede horses as long ago as the middle of the eighteenth century. Nicolas Joseph Cugnot built and ran successfully a model of an automobile in 1763, and six years later made for the French Government a three-wheeled gun-carriage In which the boiler was kettle-shaped and the rotary motion supplied by pawls on the piston rods and ratchet wheels fixed to the driving wheels. Murdock, in 1781, and William Symington, in 1786, follow— the one with a steam tricycle and the other with a road coach, and various modifications of the idea appeared thereafter.
In 1801 a full-sized road coach was built by an Englishman named Trevi thick, and in Isls W. James and Sir James Anderson built and ran a stage coach carrying twenty people and capable of going seven miles an hour with a full load. In 1522 Sir Goldsworthy Gurney had several steam stages running from London and nine steam omnibuses were placed in operation by Mr. Hancock. A steam carriage made by Messrs. Squire and Macerone in 1833 went fourteen miles an hour at a cost of 7 cents a mile.
The opposition of the staging industry and the diverting of public interest to the subject of railroads brought the development of the automobile to a standstill, and it has remained for us of the present decade to revive and appreciate it.
The races which have taken place and are projected have aroused wide spread and keen interest. The international contest planned for August between Alexander Winton, who made the trip from Cleveland to New York— a distance of 707 1/4 miles last May in forty-seven hours and thirty-four minutes, and Monsieur Charron, the French champion automobilist, will undoubtedly tend to still further popularize these already popular conveyances, and it will probably be but a very short time before every city and town of importance in the United States will be using them, both for pleasure and for traffic.