August 22, 1902:
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 out
of the public eye. His final ride (on the day he was shot in 1901) was in
an ambulance made either by Columbia or by Riker, depending on the source.
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: "...this 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
"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."
Apparently Theodore Roosevelt's entire family enjoyed motoring,
as can be seen in the next items...