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Home > Articles > Car History - Get a Horse!  (Part  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8)

Car History - Get a Horse!   Part 7: Quantity Production of American Automobiles Begins

By Carl Burgess Glasscock

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

In the meantime Roy D. Chapin had become the official tester in the Olds factory. That, rather than photography or filing gears, was what had tempted him to leave college. He was willing to work all day and half the night in order to have the thrill of driv­ing the resultant automobile around the block. How much more thrilling to drive one to New York!

But it was no joy ride. His luggage consisted almost entirely of a box of spare parts behind the buggy seat. The company had learned pretty accurately by that time what parts were most likely to break under the jolting and pounding, the stresses and strains of rocks and ruts, chuckholes and mudholes. Chapin took as many of those parts as the little six-hundred-pound Oldsmobile could carry. He was the boy who knew how to fit them in when needed. So he progressed, more or less by leaps and bounds, al­though the little car ran smoothly on the occasional stretches of smooth road. In New York State the roads became so bad under the autumn rains that he decided to take to the Erie Canal tow-path. His outstanding recollection of that journey, he told me, was the lurid language of the drivers of mules towing the canal boats.

The mule drivers didn’t like the Oldsmobile. Neither did the mules. The mules were afraid of the devil-wagon, and the drivers were afraid the mules might jump into the canal to escape it. That problem was worked out by driving the mules to the outside of the towpath so that if they stampeded it would not be into the canal. Thus, while the mule drivers cursed and wrestled with their beasts, the path was left clear for the Oldsmobile--clear except for one thing. The heavy tow rope stretched across it, with a team of mules on one end and a canal boat on the other. But even such hurdles eventually were surmounted by the Oldsmobile, and Chapin piloted his machine triumphantly, if wearily down Fifth Avenue.

The Oldsmobile under Chapin’s skillful handling had proved itself. The company saw to it that the demonstration received wide publicity. The little car was the center of interest in the second annual New York Automobile Show. Ray M. Owen, a New York dealer, promptly obtained a contract to sell one thou­sand of the cars in the New York market. Quantity production of low-priced automobiles in America was launched and assured. The Olds Motor Works did it. Factory output leaped from four hundred and twenty-five cars in 1901 to two thousand five hun­dred in 1902. Gus Edwards wrote a popular song, My Merry Oldsmobile, which spread more widely than the car.

Popular demand, with cash accompanying the order, and full payment on delivery, stimulated production to four thousand cars in 1903, and five thousand in 1904. The Oldsmobile Company adopted a slogan, “Nothing to Watch but the Road,” perhaps the first advertising slogan used in the industry.

It proved to be a popular slogan despite the fact that one dis­gruntled purchaser of an early Oldsmobile was widely quoted to the effect that he “got darned tired watching the same piece of road.” That situation was not confined to the Oldsmobiles. Every automobile in the United States, from the worst to the best, was subject to it in those days. Although they have been improved beyond the wildest dreams of their first producers they would still be confined to the same stationary point of view occasionally if improvement of highways had not progressed simultaneously with improvement of the automobiles.

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