August 22, 1902:
The First Presidential Motorcade
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 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.)
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...
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...