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Get a Horse!   Part 8: The Glidden Tours

By Carl Burgess Glasscock

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

The Glidden Tours furnished the highlights of comedy, tragedy, publicity and in­valuable experience through eight vital years of the development of automobiles and good roads. Charles J. Glidden was their sponsor. Every person driving an automobile in America today is to some extent their beneficiary. Mr. Glidden had taken a fortune out of his vast business. He had leisure and money with which to indulge his newly found hobby of automobiling. Beginning with the long drive from New York to Philadelphia, he made so many automobile journeys thirty years ago that he was inspired to reveal to others the “joys of the open road.” Or maybe he wanted company in the numerous mudholes in which he was so frequently stuck.

In any event, he offered a large silver cup for the winner of an annual national road tour under the direction of the American Automobile Association. A course of approximately one thousand miles meandering from New York to Bretton Woods, New Hamp­shire, was mapped. Thirty-three cars were entered, mostly by manufacturers looking for publicity. They included R. E. Olds, Percy Pierce, Walter White and John D. Maxwell, among the biggest names in the industry in 1905. And did they have fun?

Mrs. John Cuneo of New York, the only woman driver in that contest, ran into another contestant stalled on a narrow bridge the first day out, and tipped her own car into the creek. Other cars were mired to the hubs. The cry of “Get a Horse!” re­sounded along the route. Farmers reaped what they had not sown by hitching their horses to the unfortunate. When the rustics and villagers could not profit in that manner they sent out the con­stables, with ropes which they strung across the road from post to post or tree to tree just as a Glidden tourist appeared at twenty or thirty miles an hour. Numerous drivers narrowly escaped being beheaded. Brakes were hot so good in those days. But few vil­lages failed to profit from speed fines. When the rural justices of the peace could not fine a motorist for speeding they frequently could fine him for obstructing the road or frightening horses.

Even so, several automobiles finished the course, evidently much to the surprise of the promoters of the first tour. It seems to have been assumed that the car which got there first would be the winner. But so many of them had been hauled along by horses for various distances that that did not appear exactly fair. Lack­ing any better method of decision the directors asked each driver to vote for the two cars which, in their opinion, best deserved the trophy. Each man voted for himself first, but a majority named Percy Pierce and his Pierce-Arrow, of Buffalo, second. Pierce was awarded the trophy for a year.

Automobilists had learned a lot about roads and the weaknesses of their cars. They began to correct both as rapidly as they could. The next year there was a larger entry list. Rules penalizing con­testants for recourse to horses to help them out of their difficulties were formulated. The tour started at Buffalo, wandered around in Canada and came back to Bretton Woods. The first day Webb Jay’s steamer burned. The second day Walter White’s steamer did the same. W. C. Durant introduced the Buick, and E. R. Lozier started the Lozier, among the aristocrats of its day. Gro­cery stores along the way held them up with suddenly rocketed prices for gasoline. Hotels tripled their rates. But horse accidents were fewer. Percy Pierce again won the trophy.

He continued to win it with such consistency in the next Glidden contests that the stamina of the Fierce-Arrow was thoroughly impressed upon the minds of Americans. Detroit manufacturers did not care so much for Glidden Tour publicity. They began to note that the jokes and the grief of the contestants were getting more space than the names of the better cars. Packard, Cadillac, Ford, Chalmers and Studebaker declined to enter. Popular inter­est in the Glidden Tour began to wane. A few years later it faded out completely.

It had served its purpose. Good roads and better automobiles were being built. Out of more than a decade of crude experi­mental production the gasoline automobile had emerged as an ac­cepted factor in American life.

Ray Stannard Baker, in an article in McClure’s Magazine of July, 1899, is authority for the statement that in the preceding year there were less than thirty self-propelled vehicles operating in America. In 1899 eighty concerns were building or organizing to build self-propelled vehicles. But the only cities mentioned by Baker as seats of the infant industry were New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. Detroit, in 1899, is conspicuous by its absence. But Detroit had what it takes.

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