September 15, 1909 – Henry Ford and George Selden face off in heated court battle over patent & royalties

It was on this day in 1909 that a court battle between George Selden and Henry Ford that started on October 22, 1903 came to an end…almost. In brief, George Selden held an 1895 US patent for the gasoline powered automobile. This made him eligible to receive royalties from all automakers in the United States making this type of car, all without manufacturing any vehicles himself (though he would attempt to). With executives at Electric Vehicle Company (EVC), he founded the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) in 1903 as an overlord of the American auto industry. This association set up a simple way for automakers to pay their royalties to Selden and the EVC. 

An advertisement from the ALAM about which manufacturers are licensed

When Henry Ford set up Ford Motor Company in 1903 he tried to join ALAM, but was denied. It’s theorized this was because numerous former investors and other partners of Ford had already joined and were high in the ranks at ALAM. Undeterred, Ford began producing automobiles. He was quickly served with a lawsuit for breaching Selden’s patent. 

On this day in 1909 a court ruled in favor of ALAM, finding legitimacy in the Selden patent. But that wasn’t the end. Ford filed an appeal, knowing his newly-released Model T was at stake. The case rose to the US Circuit Court of Appeals. Ford fought one specific aspect of the patent, which was that the  Selden patent referenced the use of a Brayton cycle engine. Ford stated his vehicles used an Otto cycle engine, which is still widely used in internal combustion engines today. With this argument Ford won his appeal on January 11, 1911, and broke down the monopoly held by Selden and ALAM. Automakers now had the freedom to build without having to pay royalties to anyone.

Cover image: George Selden & Henry Ford in a Selden manufactured automobile

September 14, 1965 – My Mother the Car Premiers

Judging by the list of comedic all-stars who created, wrote, and directed My Mother the Car, which premiered on this day in 1965, you’d think it’d still be on TV. As it went, the whole charade was a network swing and a miss, leading to the series being canned after one season. Writers included Allan Burns and James L. Brooks and it was directed by, among others, Rod Amateau.

My Mother the Car starred Jerry Van Dyke as attorney David Crabtree. In the first episode he buys a vintage 1928 “Porter” after it calls to him on a used car lot. He soon discovers his deceased mother is talking to him through the radio, yet nobody else hears it. To get his family onboard with keeping the dilapidated old car, David has it fully restored. During the restoration a crooked collector known as Captan Manzini catches wind of the vehicle’s existence. The series revolves around Manzini doing anything he can to get the car from David.

Today the Porter is owned by a collector in Alberta, Canada and one of the stunt vehicles used in the show sold at a 2017 auction for $50,000 in Connecticut.

September 13, 1899 – The first person killed by an automobile in the US

New York City in 1899

On this day in 1899 Henry Bliss was exiting a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York City when he was struck by an electric taxicab driven by Arthur Smith. The vehicle crushed Bliss’ head and chest, causing him to die from his injuries by the next morning, making him the first person to be killed by an automobile in the United States. Smith, who was ferrying Dr. David Edson, the son of former NYC Mayor Franklin Edson, was charged with manslaughter, but was later acquitted.

Henry Bliss in 1873

On the 100th anniversary of the event a plaque was placed and dedicated at the intersection where the accident occurred. It reads, “Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.”

The dedication ceremony was attended by the great-granddaughter of Bliss, who placed flowers where the accident occurred. Read the original New York Times article about the event here.

Cover photo – Fourteenth St., looking east from Broadway, New York, 1899, Library of Congress archives.

September 12, 1918 – 4 months, 16,000 miles, 48 state capitals, 1 troubled car company

Revere Automobile

Erwin “Cannonball” Baker is perhaps best known for his record setting transcontinental motorcycle rides, but on this day in 1918 he completed a four wheel trip that took him to every existing state capital. What was as much a reliability test as it was a promotional run for Revere Automobiles (1917-1924), of Logansport, Indiana, Baker departed on his journey in June of 1918. It is widely believed that Baker did not drive a production vehicle, but instead the first ReVere prototype that emerged from the factory on August 25, 1917. This car rolled out of the plant equipped with a Duesenberg four cylinder engine, but no body. Baker supposedly drove the body-less car to Racine, Wisconsin, where it received a touring body from Racine Manufacturing Company.

Erwin Cannonball Baker

Most ReVeres made before 1922 were only built upon order, and came with a Duesenberg motor. The most well known customer of ReVere was King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who ordered a Sport Victoria in 1919 for a whopping $7,800. Unfortunately financial troubles, crooked owners and bad orders would grind the company to a halt by 1926.

A ReVere fit for a King

Upon completion of his criss-cross country trip on this day in 1918, Baker telegrammed ReVere officials that “ReVere has now completed the most remarkable endurance and test run ever attempted.” The 16,234 miles logged during the 3 month cruise were impressive, but they didn’t do much for the company. ReVere rebodied the Baker car, thus missing out on a golden marketing opportunity. As of 2007 only five ReVeres are known to exist.

The ReVere factory in Logansport, IN

September 11, 1970 – The Ford Pinto goes on sale

The for-some-reason iconic Ford Pinto was introduced to the masses on this day in 1970. The subcompact car was developed to compete with the influx of small cars of the era, particularly imports. More than 3 million Pintos were manufactured between model years 1971 and 1980. However, it wasn’t the fact that the Pinto was the first mass produced car to feature rack-and-pinion steering that put it in the headlines. The explosive news coverage the car received throughout the 1970s can be attributed to an ill placed gas tank on pre-1977 models.


1973 Ford Pinto – By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden

The vehicle became known for bursting into flames if it were rear ended at speeds above 20 miles per hour. It was later discovered that Ford found out about the problem during initial crash testing before production ever began and following an internal cost-benefit analysis prepared by Ford they decided to still manufacture the car without completing any fixes. The report stated that it would cost $11 per car to fix the fatal problem, which totaled $137 million. Ford compared this to an estimated $49.5 million in potential lawsuits that came about due to the fiery mistake, and the report deemed it “inefficient” to fix the problem. The report stated that Ford would likely have to pay $200,000 for each death predicted to result from the issue. After the general public learned of Ford’s decision to continue producing the Pinto there was a massive uproar. Then in 1978, a California jury awarded a record-breaking $128 million to a single claimant in a Pinto crash case. This payment was later reduced to $3.5 million.

First-generation American sub compacts, left to right: AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Vega
By Vegavairbob – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12782382

In 1978 Ford recalled all 1971 through 1976 Pintos and provided additional shielding and reinforcement around the gas tank. Estimates put the death toll of the fatal flaw in the wide range of 27 to 180. This number is not too different from deaths in any competitors’ vehicles with similar production numbers.

Cover photo: 1973 Pinto By Joost J. Bakker from IJmuiden – Ford Pinto runaboutUploaded by Oxyman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16085390

September 10, 1950 – A new diesel speed record

Jimmy Jackson drove his #61 Cummins Diesel Special to a new diesel land speed record of 165.23 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on this day in 1950.

Jackson at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his Cummins Special in 1950.

Nicknamed the Green Hornet byJackson, the car had a 401ci (6.6L) six-cylinder Cummins JBS 600 truck engine. It was outfitted with supercharger mounted in front of the engine that was coupled directly to the crankshaft. Jackson ran the same car in the 1950 Indianapolis 500, but was forced to drop out after 50 laps due to mechanical issues.

September 9, 1954 – Birth of the T-Bird

Ford’s answer to the Corvette, the Thunderbird, began rolling off assembly lines on this day in 1954 for the 1955 model year. The Thunderbird, while aligned to compete with Chevrolet’s sports car, was positioned as a personal luxury vehicle. Ford emphasized its new car’s comfort and convenience, letting shoppers discover its sportiness during the test drive. It worked. The Thunderbird outsold Covette more than 20 to 1 in 1955.

1965 Ford Thunderbird
By F.G.Bendiks – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Though the two-seater found continued success through 1957, engineers and designers at Ford thought they could sell far more than 23,000 of the cars. Executive Robert McNamara called for a four seater, thinking the two seats would limit the car’s salability. Again, Ford hit it out of the park. While the two-seat Thunderbird sold around 60,000 units between 1955 and 1957, approximately 200,000 four seaters sold in the next three years. Chevrolet, on the other hand, stuck to their guns and responded to the initial success of the T-Bird by offering a V8 option for the Corvette in 1955, sealing the vehicle’s fate to become “America’s Sports Car.

The final generation of the Thunderbird was produced from 2002-2005.

The Thunderbird was a versatile car for Ford, selling in a number of body styles between 1955 and 1997, such as a four door post car, a five passenger convertible, and again as a two seat retro convertible from 2002 to 2005. Through all its iterations some 4.4 million Ford Thunderbirds were produced.

Cover photo by: Nminow – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2193161

September 7, 1896 -“Get a Horse!”

When the first auto race to take place on an American race track began on this day in 1896 it started so slow that spectators were shouting, “Get a horse!” The race, sponsored by automobile manufacturers hoping to attract new buyers, took place at the Narragansett Trotting Park in Cranston, Rhode Island. It marked the first time a US auto race was held on a track, opposed to on public streets. Narragansett was a one mile-long dirt oval track at the state fairgrounds that was generally reserved for horse racing. But on this day seven cars took the field to participate in the five lap “Providence Horseless Carriage Race.” After the trot of a start more than 60,000 spectators became wooed as they watched as a Riker Electric complete the five lap race first, averaging about 20 miles per hour.

The start of the first US auto race on a track

Along with the Riker there were five internal combustion vehicles and one other electric car. Second place went to the other electric car, built by Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, and third place was snagged by a Duryea Motor Wagon.

September 6, 1891 – Peugeot debuts the Type 3 Quadricycle

On this day in 1891 Peugeot released the Type 3 Quadricycle, an internal combustion vehicle of which 64 were produced between 1891 and 1894. It was the second petrol powered auto from Peugeot, following an attempt at building steam powered vehicles. After company founder Armand Peugeot consulted with early automobile engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Emile Levassor he became convinced internal combustion was the future of transportation. His Type 3 featured an engine designed by Daimler that produced 2hp, giving the vehicle an approximate top speed of 11 mph.

To debut the Type 3 Armand Peugeot ran a demonstration model in the inaugural Paris-Brest-Pariscycle race beginning on this day in 1891. The car ran for 2,045 kilometres (1,271 miles), from Peugeot’s factory in to Paris, and then back to Valentigney. It had an average speed of 14.7 km/h (9.1 mph), and suffered no major malfunctions. The demonstrator would later become the first Peugeot sold to the public.

September 5, 1930 – A backwards trip comes to an end

The names Charles Creighton and James Hargis probably doesn’t ring any bells, but they may put a kink in your neck. These two completed a New York to Los Angeles — and back journey — in a Ford Model A on this day in 1930. Oh, and they did it all in reverse gear. The nearly 7,200 mile journey across unpaved roads took 42 days, but if doing it backwards wasn’t strange enough they never once turned off the Ford. This includes during a 48 hour rest in Los Angeles!

Who is ready for a road trip?