Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
August 22, 1902: First President to Ride in an Auto in Public
On this day Roosevelt was the first president to be seen riding in an automobile in public. This took place in Hartford, CT. The car was a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton, manufactured in Hartford. The police squad rode bicycles alongside the car. Note the chauffeurs at the back: one of them is steering with a tiller. Notice the Columbia bicycles the police are riding are shaft-drive, no chains.
This was the first Presidential Motorcade.
Teddy Roosevelt was not the first president to ride in a motor car. His predecessor, William McKinley, seems to have done so on a few occasions. But he did so out of the public eye. There was no such reticence for President Roosevelt. The first time he rode in an automobile, August 22, 1902, he did so very much in public, while on a swing through New England ahead of the ’02 mid-term elections. It was the first presidential motorcade, through Hartford, Conn.
Frederic D. Schwarz writes in AmericanHeritage.com: “…his was the first time Americans witnessed a President sitting in a motorcar and waving to cheering crowds — a scene that has since taken on familiar and occasionally chilling overtones.
“The car in which Roosevelt rode was a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. At this early stage in the industry’s development, about half of America’s automobiles were electric, with most of the rest running on steam and a small fraction being internal-combustion. (President McKinley’s first auto ride, back in 1899, had been in a steam-driven Locomobile piloted by its inventor, F. O. Stanley, in Washington, D.C.)
“Like other Columbia models, the Victoria Phaeton had an external box for the driver, in this case in the rear — a holdover from the days of horse-drawn carriages. It was propelled by two rear electric motors, using power stored in 20 two-volt Exide lead-acid batteries.
Together the batteries weighed about 800 pounds, roughly 40 percent of the vehicle’s total weight; they were placed above the front and rear axles. The tires were solid rubber, and the chauffeur had a choice of four speeds, topping out at a blistering 13 mph, though in this case the car probably crawled along at the minimum 4 mph. It sold for $3,000, about five times the average annual wage…
“…By the end of the decade, the use of cars would be routine for Presidents. In 1907 the Secret Service bought a pair of White steam cars to carry visitors between the Oyster Bay train station and the President’s house at Sagamore Hill.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft rode a Pierce-Arrow to and from his inaugural ball. From then on, automobiles became a staple of presidential appearances — though since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the use of open cars has been reduced considerably.”
On a side note:
US president caught speeding by bicycle cops. In June 1905, a car carrying US president Theodore Roosevelt was stopped for speeding, by two policemen on bicycles.
WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22, 1905: President experienced one of those occasions that frequently confront motorists. When well out of the city Jacobi (the president’s chauffeur) let the car out a bit and the distinguished occupants were enjoying keenly the rush of air when two of the detail of bicycle police fell in behind the President’s car and endeavored to overtake the party. After a stern chase they were successful, and they called upon the President and his chauffeur to stop.
“You will have to meet me in the police court at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning,” said one of the policemen, as he rubbed the sand out of his eyes. Apparently he was addressing the operator of the car, but a man…dressed in khaki riding breeches, a colored shirt, heavy walking shoes and a slouch hat, made the response.
“For what reason?” he inquired.
“You have violated the speed regulations,” continued the policeman. “You were going at least twenty-five miles an hour, and the regulations allow but fifteen miles.”
When informed that he was addressing the President the officer collapsed. However, the President took the matter good naturedly, and cautioning the chauffeur to drive at slower speed, the party proceeded to Great Falls…
It has since transpired that Jacobi, the chauffeur, thought the pursuing policemen were secret service men detailed to guard the President on his ride, and only wanted to make them ride a little faster than they are accustomed to. Yeah right 😉