20 July 2015

Road Trip Century Celebration: HVA relives Edsel Ford road trip in a 1915 Model T

This month, members of the HVA staff began a cross-country trek, following in the footsteps of Edsel Ford 100 years after he and a group of friends traveled from Detroit to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

In 1915, motor travel, especially cross-country motor travel, was all the rage. The Great Northern Railway had adopted the slogan “See America First!” in 1906, and other railroads, resort operators, national-park advocates and guidebook writers soon joined the campaign to lure well-to-do tourists to the western United States. Hotels, gas stations and roadside restaurants popped up practically overnight, clamoring to serve these westbound adventurers, and magazines – many of them heavily dependent on car-related advertising –tirelessly hailed the joys of modern motoring.

For many, the destination of choice that year was the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) – the world’s fair in San Francisco, Calif., commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal. Amazingly, about 25,000 cars traveled cross-country on a developing but still primitive road system to visit the exposition. These travelers included Emily Post from New York City, on an assignment for Collier’s Weekly, and Henry Joy, President of the Packard Motor Company. Another person who traveled to San Francisco, leaving from Detroit, Mich., was 21-year-old Edsel Ford, driving a 1915 Ford Model T.

Sent at the request of his father, Henry, Edsel and a group of friends began the long trek from Detroit to San Francisco to oversee the Model T assembly demonstrations being held at the PPIE. Along the way, they saw the vast expanse of vanishing wilderness and the slow encroachment of the modern era reshaping the whole country. Despite the arrival of modernity, the trip included countless trials and tribulations associated with cross-country travel by early automobiles on primitive roads. Photographs from the trip show countless mechanical issues, cars virtually swallowed by the often muddy roads and other difficulties inherent in early automotive travel.

In 2015, the Historic Vehicle Association is following Edsel Ford’s well-documented journey to celebrate the Road Trip Century. Driving a 1915 Model T similar to that of Edsel’s, the team is taking a similar route 100 years later, experiencing the past within a decidedly modern context. During the trip, the HVA is sharing their experiences along the route, planning events at many of the stop-over locations and historic sites that were visited by Edsel in 1915. This merging of the past and present is one of the key objectives in the HVA’s mission of preserving our automotive and cultural heritage.

You can follow the tour’s progress on the HVA’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, and keep tabs on their daily blog at drivehistory.org. And if you see them out on the road, be sure to use the hashtags #drivehistory and #RoadTripCentury.

Along with the establishment of the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2014, the HVA has worked to celebrate and preserve our rich automotive heritage for future generations to experience and enjoy. By bringing history to life, they aim to raise awareness for the richness of not only our automotive heritage, but also how it has shaped our contemporary culture. 

3 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Jeff Atascadero CA July 23, 2015 at 01:39
    The 1915 Ford touring car they were going to see assembled and dismantled every day in the Ford exhibit of the Panama Expo still exists, and is in Tulare, CA
  • 2
    john rasmussen Clarkston Michigan July 23, 2015 at 18:31
    I was able to make this trip from L.A. to Detroit in a 1930 Model A Ford in the fall of 1950. Traveled most of the way on Route 66. Exciting times for a 18 year old kid from Marlette Michigan.
  • 3
    David Katz San Diego, CA July 23, 2015 at 11:40
    Fascinating article. Now I have a better idea of what prompted my great-grandfather to drive from Baltimore to CA in 1916 in his 1905 Fiat. He left no record about it that I know of, but the blog giving a daily account of this journey gives me a better idea of what it must have been like.

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