Carl Reese TDA Contributor
Long before Brock Yates and Richard Doherty organized coast to coast automobile events in the 1970’s and 80’s. Col. Augustus Post and the American Automobile Association (AAA) was testing the limits of man and machine.
The Summer of 1904
A little more than one year after Horatio Jackson won a bar bet; by becoming the first person to drive across the United States in an automobile. Augustus Post and the AAA organized what may have been the first automotive road rally. Who is Augustus Post? And why has the transcontinental community nearly forgotten him? He is someone that is connected to some very interesting corners of transportation history. Post and his band of buddies were organizing many events, forming clubs and setting several records during the turn of the century.
One of Post’s landmark events was a rally that took place on July 25, 1904. Seventy-one vehicles took part in competitive run from New York to St. Louis. Their destination was the “St. Louis World’s Fair” to commemorate the centennial of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.
It was a time when the American spirit was unapologetic and manufactures were not overly controlled by attorneys. The press of that era covered events like this from start to finish. Manufactures were eager to sponsor such events and take out full page ads to prove that “Made in America” was something to be proud of. This sponsored event and ones like it drew crowds far and wide.
At 8:30 am on a mild summer Monday morning the crowds and press witnessed 16 of those 71 automobiles set out from 5th Ave and East 59th Street. For anyone that is curious, as I was, this is the south-east corner of Central Park. Which just so happens to be the same place Jacob Murdock chose to end his record-setting journey just two years later.
Getting There is Half the Fun
With nothing more than some hand-drawn maps, these men traveled to St. Louis by way of Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo. Picking up other automobile owners along the way. A time when roads were nothing more that unmarked dirt trails.
Halfway through the journey Charles J. Glidden offered a trophy to the outstanding car completing the run. Roughly forty miles outside St. Louis they ran into rain that slowed their progress considerably. Many broke down along the way, and other drivers would pitch in to help. Those that didn’t break an axle from the ruts got bogged down in the mud.
Seventeen days after they started the teams trickled in to St. Louis. The first to arrive was Percy Pierce in his Pierce-Arrow, the official winner of the first ever “Glidden Trophy.” Charles Glidden, a competitor that offered up a that trophy. Glidden went on to organize six of his own events known as the “Glidden Tours”. This was no holiday tour. Each year they progressively got longer and harder. You can see video of the first Glidden Tour here.
Why its important to remember Augustus Post
To say Post was a car enthusiast wouldn’t do him justice. He owned the first automobile in New York City (electric model), built the first public garages for automobiles. A true visionary of American transportation. Think about it, without men like Post, would there even be a Red Ball Garage?
Not impressed? What if I told you he hung out with geniuses like Alexander Gram Bell, and Wilber Wright. He was also the 13th man to fly an airplane in the United States. Post and Glidden teamed up again to organize the Aero Club of America. The ACA issued the first pilot’s license in the United States. Together with ACA they formally organized aeronautics and verified records.
Post and the Infancy of Air Travel
As the country was exploring the limits of the automobile. Augustus was exploring the viability of air travel, and competing in several balloon events also. Post and his team set a endurance record in a balloon, an attempt from St. Louis to New York. Their time of 48 hours 26 minutes was made official by the Board of Governors of the ACA.
On a separate balloon journey Post crashed a balloon in the Canadian wilderness and it took him 5 days to hike out on foot.
Later in Post’s life he organized Automobile Old Timers Association an automotive pioneers/record holders club of sorts. You can bet those were some great meetings.
3 Lessons Post and others have taught us
Determined men like Augustus Post, Jacob Murdock, Charles Glidden, and Horatio Jackson changed the course of our great country in three ways. One, they showed Americans that the automobile was here to stay. Two, they demonstrated that infrastructure was desperately needed. Third they helped automobile industry improve manufacturing by helping them understand the shortcomings of the automobile.
Past or Present Automotive Records will always be apart of American history
Automobile records of the past shaped America transportation landscape. Transcontinental automobile records showed the country that horse and buggy was no longer needed. Just as EV records of today prove that foreign oil is no longer needed. Men like Post and Horatio opened our eyes of the possibilities for our future as a country. Aero-records of this time period paved the way for modern aviation. The first record attempts literally set the stage for all modern air transportation as we know it.
The American Spirit is not Dead
Eleven new cross country records were set in 2015 . Among them the very first Autonomous coast to coast record, and a Guinness Book Record for EV Coast to Coast travel. Current generations of Americans have picked up the torch and now are testing the tech of our time.
Each new record set the stage to showcase auto manufactures and the future of transportation. Some publications now days refuse to cover these stories are forgetting American’s long lasting obsession with such events. Major news outlets including Fox News, and the Today Show are undaunted and have no issue with reporting these amazing feats.
In my opinion the problem is the attorneys and the editors that demand journalist only write “fluff” pieces. Fearful their own shadows, and litigation. In the wake, the Amercian public is left with endless number of favorable Youtube reviews of “press” cars. I believe Post, Jackson, and Cannonball Baker would spit on the boots of such cowardice.
Brock Yates on the other hand embodied Post’s automotive spirit. Yates wrote for Car and Driver magazine and shared the stories of the records set during the “Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Runs”. Yates brought a resurgence of organized record breaking events during the 1970’s. Richard Doherty picked up the torch in the 1980’s with the running of U.S. Express. These transcontinental pioneers should never be forgotten.
How the Press, Post and Glidden Improved The Roads
How the press chooses to cover these stories into the future remains unclear. We need to be grateful of the press coverage during the “Glidden Tours”. That coverage brought forth embarrassment for local, state and government officials regarding the deplorable road conditions. That onslaught of press eventually brought forth better roads. For that we should all be grateful. I think history shows us that record setting men, the press and manufactures have made transportation better for all Americans !
Sources: Library of Congress, Wikipedia.