Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 49/ 365 Never Judge A Book By Its Covers

On the off chance that someone will buy a book, I was sitting here listing, in this case, The Timber Raising Handbook, and out of its pages falls this snappy 8 x 10 black and white print.

No identifying information, although it's a print made of an even older original photo.

This is all it takes to send me off on a Find-the-Clues-and-Solve-The-Mystery wild goose hunt.

Several hours later, thanks to the miracle of the internet, I have narrowed it down to the time period of 1900-1904, probably American, because those sort of men's hats were not popular in Europe.

However, the make of the horseless automobile is proving more difficult. I have emails out to various car club sites, including one called Curved Dash Oldsmobile Club, because the first auto maker in America was R.E. Olds, and his vehicles had a distinctive curved dash. This one is curved, but not in the same way as the Olds I can find online. Also, the sides have different identifying marks. I'm wondering if it's an odd model, or a knockoff?

I have also discovered a very similar vehicle was made even earlier, in Germany, by Karl Benz (yes, the one that hooked up with Mercedes). Apparently, the first long-distance automobile trip (65 miles) was made on August 5, 1888, when Karl's wife, Berta, threw the two kids in the car, and, without telling Karl, drove off to see her mother. During the trip, she had to stop at pharmacies along the way for fuel, as well as deal with mechanical problems, but arrived safely by nightfall, and sent Karl a telegram to tell him where she was. That event is still celebrated in Germany with a antique car rally each year.

I can almost hear Berta: : "Karl! I haven't seen my mother in months! She wants to see the boys! All you ever do is work on that stupid car - we never do anything as a family anymore!
Fine- I'll go by myself *and* I'll take your stupid car!"

Nothing ever really changes.

While Berta was dealing with modern technology, the rest of the world was moving ahead as well: in 1900, Freud released his first dream interpretation book, a hurricane hit Galveston and killed 8000 people; in 1901, Queen Victoria died after reigning 64 years, Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in after McKinley was shot, and the first Nobel prizes were awarded; in 1902, Beatrix Potter wrote her first Peter Rabbit stories, and Caruso made his first recording; in 1903, W.R. Carrier introduced the first air conditioner; in 1904 the New York Subway opened, and the first telephone answering machine was invented; and finally, in 1905, the Russian Revolution began, trains acquired electric lights, the first movie theatre opened in Philly, and Albert Einstein proposed his Theory of Relativity.

I wonder what the two people in this newfangled horseless carriage thought of all this? Or were they still watching it unfold? Was this a father and son sitting in their household's newest acquistion? Being early 1900's, having an automobile would be a sign of upperclass (or insanity, lots of people thought that driving cars was careless and foolhardy (1900's version of bungee jumping), since cars would never really amount to anything, next to the safety and reliability of a good horse).

Or is this someone else's vehicle, and they've borrowed it for the day, or maybe come upon someone who has it, and asked to have their picture taken in it as a novelty? Taking pictures wasn't as commonplace then, although Kodak has just introduced the first mass-produced camera (The Brownie- Just $1.00!), and photography is the hot new fad. But this is no Brownie
photo. This was a large negative with sharp clear details, probably at least a 4x5.

So this may have been a "document our upward rise in mobility and class status" photo, or it may have been a commercial photographer who saw an opportunity to make a living with the two newest pieces of technology available: the horseless carriage, and the photograph.

BTW - I came across an especially obscure vehicle. When the first steam carriages came out, they were very loud and noisy, and continually startled the equine traffic in our streets, causing runaway carts, and injuries from flailing hooves. Some enterprising person determined the reason the horses paniced was not because of the noise, but because the carriages had no horses. His theory was that if the horses could see another horse, they would be reassured, and by the time they realized it wasn't real, the carriage would have passed by, and so, he carved lifesize wooden horse heads and attached them to horseless carriages, and called them Horsey Horseless Carriages.


  1. Great photo - great write up!

  2. Cool photo. I enjoyed reading your research process too:)