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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Americans Adopt the Auto Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction First to Drive across the Continent Other Early Trips
7: Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903

Other Early Trips

H. Nelson Jackson’s trip in 1903 inspired dozens of motorists to cross the country. In 1909, Alice Huyler Ramsey, of Hackensack, New Jersey, became the first woman to drive across the United States. Challenged by a sales manager for Maxwell automobiles, she drove a Maxwell touring car from New York to San Francisco in 59 days. Like Jackson, Ramsey and her three female passengers packed a block and tackle and used it often in the muddy Midwest. Between 1909 and 1975, Ramsey drove across the country more than 30 times.

Pulling the car out
Pulling the car out

Western roads were still unimproved in 1909 when Alice Huyler Ramsey drove across the country. She extracted the Maxwell from washouts and mudholes with block and tackle, a jack, even fence rails under the wheels. Occasionally horses and cars gave her a tow.

Alice Ramsey and her companions on the road, 1909

Ramsey’s sisters-in-law and a friend accompanied her on the trip from New York to San Francisco. Here they prepare to light the acetylene gas headlamps.

Alice Ramsey and her companions on the road, 1909

Driving for Voting Rights

At a time when few women owned or drove cars, taking the wheel was a powerful symbolic act. In 1916, suffragists Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, with their cat Saxon, drove across and around the country to drum up support for voting rights for women. Their yellow Saxon automobile, nicknamed the “Golden Flier,” became a moving symbol of women’s rights and a podium for speeches in many towns and cities. Sponsored by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the trip began and ended in New York City. It took five months, and covered more than 10,000 miles.

Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and the “Golden Flier,” 1916
Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and the “Golden Flier,” 1916

As Burke and Richardson drove around the country, overcoming the challenges of rough roads and mechanical breakdowns, they showed that women could be at home in the “masculine” domain of machines.

The Army Crosses the Continent

In the summer of 1919, the United States Army organized a convoy of trucks, automobiles, trailers, and motorcycles that traveled from Washington to San Francisco. The drive was a publicity stunt, and also served to test military vehicles developed during World War I, to train troops, and to highlight the inadequacy of roads. Rural roads were so poor that engineers had to build and repair bridges and rescue trucks that crashed through inadequate wooden bridges built to accommodate horse and wagon traffic.

Launch Video
In 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over a motor convoy for the U.S. Army transportation division. The purpose of the trip was to test the U.S. roads, examine unused military vehicles from World War I, and to recruit new members for the army. The trip took 62 days and went from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, California. This video is about the motor convoy and the obstacles they encountered with the conditions of the roads during their journey.
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