Motoring Milestones: How Many of These Facts About the Early Automobile Do You Know?

1895: Vroom! Frank Duryea wins first U.S. auto race, besting field of six. Average speed is 7.5 mph in breakdown-plagued event.
Automobile Racing
October 23, 1909

Motoring milestones and other features about the early automobile can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition: Automobiles in America! 

The Inventors

Click it. Edward J. Claghorn of New York receives patent for seat belt.

It still spills all over his shoes. First gas pump is patented by one Sylvanus Freelove Bowser.

Range: 50 miles. Top speed: 20 mph. First successful electric car built in U.S. by William Morrison.

Gasoline firsts. Duryea Motor Wagon Company is earliest company formed to build gas-powered cars. (But Winton claims first auto sale).

Officer, I didn’t see her coming. In the first recorded auto accident, a Duryea Motor Wagon strikes a woman on a bike, breaking her leg. Driver spends night in jail.

Going without the “Flo.” First auto insurance policy is purchased by Dr. Truman Martin of Buffalo, New York. $5,000 in liability coverage costs him $12.25.

Doing the best they can. New York City Police Department uses bicycles to chase speeding motorists.

Rules of the road. Connecticut enacts first speed limit law for motorists — 12 mph in the city and 15 mph on country roads.

A real adventure! Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewell K. Crocker are first to drive cross country. 64-day trip is made in Winton Touring Car.

What’s in a number? Massachusetts is first state to issue license plate. It’s made of porcelain.

I can see clearly now. Inventor Mary Anderson develops first windshield wiper. Manual device is operated by a handle. Automatic wipers would arrive in 1917.

1901: Economies of scale. R.E. Olds (not Henry Ford) established first automobile assembly line to build the tiller-steered Curved Dash Oldsmobile. It sells for $650.
Oldsmobile advertisement originally appeared in the Post on May 5, 1906

Pull over! First paper speeding ticket is issued in Dayton, Ohio, to Harry Myers for going 12 mph in a 5 mph zone.

Pull over, part deux. U.S. surpasses France in car production.

Temptation for speedsters. H.H. Buffum produces first American V8.

Dirty rags and all. First purpose-built U.S. gas station is recorded in St. Louis.

POTUS gets a lift. The first official White House car is a 1909 White Steamer, ordered by President Taft, over congressional objections about cost and safety.

Ahead of her time. 22-year-old Alice Ramsey is first woman to drive cross country. Trip is made in Maxwell DA touring car and takes 59 days.

The Innovators

Birth of a classic. The first running of the Indy 500. Winner Ray Harroun averages 74.6 mph.
Watch out behind you! The first rearview mirror is used by Harroun in Indy 500. (Other drivers placed their mechanic in the backseat to keep an eye out for cars coming from behind.)

1913: The moving assembly line is born. Henry Ford’s Model T chassis assembly time is reduced from 12.5 to 1.5 hours allowing Ford to increase wages and drop price in later years.

Chevrolet makes its marque. The iconic bow-tie emblem appears for the first time on 1914 models.

Hard bodies. Dodge introduces first car body made entirely of steel.

Cadillac produces its signature V8. Known as the L-head, the engine is first mass-produced, water-cooled V8.

It’s a machine, but you have to obey it anyway. Cleveland installs first electric traffic light.

Noise ordinance to follow. The first car to get the horn button in the center of the steering wheel is the Scripps-Booth Model C. In another first, the car sports electric door latches.

Now that’s power! Packard’s Twin-Six is first production car to offer a V12. The car, used in Italy during WWI, would later inspire Enzo Ferrari to design a V12 of his own.

Elderly Couple in Automobile
Robert Robinson
January 11, 1913

Federal Aid Road Act. President Wilson signs law giving federal aid for state highway costs.

Ford leads the way. As prices drop and production surges on the Model T, Ford captures 55 percent of the auto market. The record has never been beaten.

Stop, go, and huh? First tri-color stoplight is installed. In Detroit, of course.

Cars for All

Design fails to include arches. The first drive-in restaurant in the U.S., J.G. Kirby and Reuben W. Jackson’s Pig Stand, opens in Dallas.

No umbrella? No problem. Hudson introduces the Essex Coach, the first affordable enclosed sedan, marking the beginning of a shift away from open vehicles. By the end of the decade, nearly 90 percent of all cars feature a closed carriage.

Huge difference in stopping power. The Duesenberg is first to offer four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

Finally, a car for the whole family. The first production station wagon is offered by Star, a division of Durant Motors.

They didn’t reckon on Howard Stern. The radio is offered as an accessory for the first time.

Sleepover date! First motel opens in San Luis Obispo, California.

Dogs and kids in the back. The first factory-assembled pickup truck is based on the Model T, but with rear cargo box. It sells for $281.

Flapper and Roadster
Coles Phillips
September 23, 1922

Easy turning. Pierce-Arrow is first to be outfitted with power steering.

15 million sold. The Model T, by the end of its run, hits a sales milestone.

New kid in town. Ford replaces the Model T with its (second) Model A, powered by a four-cylinder 40 hp motor. The car sports innovations such as safety-glass windshield, roll-up side windows, and three-speed transmission.

Lincoln Highway completed. First road to span America, running from New York to San Francisco.

Move Over Ford. Chevrolet takes over as the No. 1 selling car company in the United States. Chevy would also hold that honor from 1931 to 1934 and would be No. 1 in sales every year from 1936 to 1976 (excepting 1957).
Chevrolet advertisement originally appeared in the Post on August 3, 1929

The Classic Era

Power surge! Cadillac 452 series is first production V16.

Hey! Slow down! There is still no speed limit in 12 states.

Whiz kid. Billy Arnold crosses 100 mph barrier at Indy 500: average speed 100.448 mph.

Anything for the record books. Charles Creighton and James Hargis drive roundtrip from New York to Los Angeles using only reverse gear. The trip, in a Ford Roadster, takes 42 days.

Bigger is better! Ford introduces its famous flathead motor. The V8 becomes an option in the Model B and 18. Later that year it becomes an option in Ford trucks.

1933: Something else you can do in the car. The first drive-in movie theater opens in Camden, New Jersey.
Moonlit Car Ride, Eugene Iverd, January 7, 1933

No such thing as bad publicity. Bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows endorse the 1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe Sedan: “I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. It has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8.” Ford responds with thank-you note.

The original one-armed bandits. The first parking meters go into service in Oklahoma City.

Strength in numbers. United Auto Workers union is formed.

The hard part is remembering to switch them off. Flashing turn signals introduced. (They become standard on Buicks in 1938.)

Rig Leader. Ford is tops in truck sales with 3 million units sold.

Song to follow. Route 66 completed.

Look ma, no hands! GM introduces first fully automatic transmission, the Hydra-Matic Drive, in its 1940 Oldsmobile models.