Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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May 23rd
From Sea to Sea in a Horse less Carriage
Thirty-one-year-old Horatio Nelson Jackson was visiting San Francisco’s University Club in 1903 when someone wagered fifty dollars that it would be impossible to drive an automobile to New York in less than ninety days. Jackson immediately took the bet. He did not own an auto, and no one had ever crossed the continent by car. At that time, the United States boasted only 150 miles of paved roads—all of them inside cities. “Highways” were often nothing more than two ruts leading toward the horizon.

Jackson purchased a used, 20-horsepower car made by the Winton Motor Carriage Company of Cleveland, christened it the Vermont after his home state, and hired mechanic Sewall Crocker to accompany him. They loaded the auto with supplies, and on May 23, 1903, the two men left San Francisco on the first drive “from sea to sea in a horseless carriage,” as the San Francisco Examiner reported.

They bounced along cliffside ledges, splashed across bridgeless streams, zigzagged over trackless plains. Tires blew out, springs broke, bolts sheared off, parts rattled to pieces. Bad directions took them hundreds of miles out of the way. They lost count of how many times they had to haul the Vermont out of mud holes. But at every farm, village, and town, curious folks gave them a hand. Blacksmiths helped them make repairs. In Idaho they bought a bulldog named Bud, fitted him with driving goggles, and took him along for the rest of the ride.

On July 26, the mud-covered Vermont rolled into Manhattan. The journey had taken 63 days. Though he never bothered to collect his fifty dollars, Horatio Nelson Jackson won his bet. The age of the open road had dawned for the American automobile.

American History Parade
1785
Benjamin Franklin writes in a letter that he has just invented bifocal glasses.

1788
South Carolina becomes the eighth state to ratify the Constitution.

1903
Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewell Crocker leave San Francisco on the first automobile trip across the United States.

1911
The New York Public Library is dedicated.

1934
Police kill bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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