The summer road trip is a rite of passage for many Americans. And the ultimate road trip is the coast-to-coast journey. Today’s driver has many tools to make the trip easier: GPS systems, road maps, and miles of interstate highway. Between 24 hour gas stations, fast food and cell phones, we are never far from fuel, food and help, if needed. Pack the trunk, crank up the A/C and the tunes, and you’re off!
Now, imagine taking away all those amenities. Instead, set out across the country with incomplete guidebooks and partial road maps. And forget highways – only a fraction of the roads you encounter will even be paved. Pack your own gas cans, and breathe in fresh air (and road dust) the whole time. The car – and road – above are similar to ones you would be driving for over 3,000 miles.
Would you still do it?
What if you were a 22-year-old wife and mother in an era where women drivers were still a rarity?
Enter Alice H. Ramsey, pictured at left with her car, and here dressed for cold weather driving. With three female companions for company (none of whom knew how to drive), Ramsey became the first woman to drive across the country. Her nearly two month journey from New York to San Francisco ended on this date, August 7, back in 1909.
The early decades of the 20thcentury were heady times for the developing auto industry. The early car trend inspired artists of the day to create advertisements and illustrations, posters and cartoons. Auto races – testing speed on the track or endurance across hundreds of miles – were all the rage, and photographers tried to capture the fast-paced action. The idea of transcontinental travel grabbed the American imagination, and attempts to complete the task became fodder for the cartoonists of the day, as seen in the humor magazine, Puck. The cartoon “Cross-Continent Craze” from the August 26, 1908 issue suggested a few other not-so-practical methods of travel.
Take the Tumblebug Family (right), flipping and rolling across the continent. According to the caption, the tumblers had reached Iowa, and “slippery roads have delayed them, but they expect good going on the plains.”
All things considered, I think I’d still take my chances in the car!
- Explore more images of automobiles in the first decade of the 20th century.
- Auto racing offered a new level of danger and excitement for car enthusiasts. Check out photos of early auto races in the Bain News Service Collection.
- First across the country by auto were Dr. H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker. They drove the opposite direction of Ramsey, arriving in New York City August 1, 1903 after 63 days on the road. Read about and see photos of their trip from the National Museum of American History.
- The Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company supported Ramsey’s trip. Read more in Maxwell Motor and the Making of the Chrysler Corporation by Anthony J. Yanik (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009).