June 24, 2018

The Invasion of the Horseless Carriage!

It was 1903 when the first automobile drove into Prescott and before the year was over, the city fell in love with the new contraption!

Well, mostly...

Still, these "machines" as they were often called, would begin to infiltrate every aspect of life in Prescott.

In late April, 1903 "an automobile party arrived in town and the machines...attracted a great deal of interest from the residents of this little mountain city where automobiles are as scarce as honest politicians," the newspaper declared.

The party was attempting to drive from Tucson to the Grand Canyon. However, the Old Black Canyon stage road was in no condition for automobile traffic. One machine broke down and "had to be hauled into Mayer on a freight wagon."

While waiting for parts to arrive from back east, the motorists finished their journey to the Canyon via the railroad. Upon returning, they drove from Mayer into Prescott causing the spectacle.

It was one from this same party who gave the editor of the Journal-Miner his first ride: "The trip extended beyond Whipple," he related, "and you 'auto' have seen that auto skim along over the smooth road. The machine is capable of making 35 mph and as the road north of town is nice and smooth, (the driver) let the thing out, just to give the scribe a sensation of high life for a few brief moments."

Around this same time Joseph Mayer, founder of that town, experienced his first ride. The roads there must have been in a worse condition because he described his experience as "just like riding in a wheelbarrow," but still envisioned that "after a while there wouldn't be any more horses."

The founding and early history of Mayer, AZ is inseparable from the biography of the man who founded it--Joseph Mayer.

Some immediately thought of the potential entrepreneurial uses these machines could provide. In what might be called Prescott's first taxicab: "Ira Pulliam's automobile arrived yesterday and will be put into commission at once for the carrying of passengers and picnic parties. He will undoubtedly do a big business with the machine, as the automobile fever has struck this city pretty hard," the paper chronicled. Pulliam's car could carry up to 4 passengers.

In order to "drive" more business to his new hotel (which still stands today,) AJ Head was first to offer free automobile transit to his modern lodging.

Not everyone thought highly of the new invention, however. Frank Murphy, who helped bring the railroads to Arizona, disliked the automobile. He forbid them on the property he controlled in west Prescott "until such time as the horses have become more accustomed to the machines and not because Mr. Murphy is not in sympathy with the introduction of up to date methods in our community," the paper reported. 

Although he would eventually allow cars on the streets, he never allowed them on Murphy Drive through the park of the same name.

On at least one occasion, Indians were terrified by the machines. "A rather amusing incident happened in...Mayer the other day," the paper related. "(An automobile) party arrived just after a shower of rain and the roads were quite muddy and when the automobile came spinning down the wagon road near the railroad where some Indians were working on the section, at a rate of 25 mph, throwing mud high into the air, the Indians saw the machine coming and supposing it was a visit from the Great Spirit dropped their tools and started across the country as fast as their feet could carry them and could not be induced to return to work for a long time after the auto was out of sight."

Early automobiles were often in need of repair and early mechanics grew out of machine shops. The first machine shop to advertise a specialty in auto repair belonged to WT Hall. 

In 1903 dealerships were known as "agencies". In July, "Samuel Hill Hardware company took the agency for the famous Oldsmobile automobiles... On account of the tremendous demand for the machines in the east, the company has been unable to fill the entire order, but shipped 2 machines which were already sold... They are known as the 5 horsepower runabout... The factory is now finishing a machine every 15 minutes...and yet are months behind with their orders."

In November the Bashford-Burmister Company became the agency for Cadillac and kept one for business use. "It is one of the handsomest autos yet received in this part of the country," the paper declared.

The early history and construction of what is Arizona State Route 89A today. It was originally known as Arizona Highway 79: The Prescott to Jerome "Shortline."

Automobiles even quickly made their way into the holidays. Fourth of July 1903 saw the first automobile in the parade. "It will take the place of Bill Dugan's calliope of last year," the paper said, "but will not make nearly as much noise."

The first year of the horseless carriage in Prescott ended appropriately with this visage in a downtown store window: "The RH Burmister & Sons company have an original and very unique window display. It is a representation of Santa Claus driving through a representation of snow, in an automobile loaded with all sorts of Christmas goods."

After only months, everyone knew the automobile was here to stay!


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