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January 3, 1899 – First use of the word Automobile in the New York Times

First automobile built by the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company. The car was completed in late April or early May of 1899 and sold to A.L. Lambrechts of St. Louis.

As more and more horseless carriages began to appear in the late 19th century, a variety of terms came to describe them. While “car” got thrown around, it had already been used for sometime to describe rail cars. Others called the new type of vehicle an autowain or an autotruck. The constant debate drove the editorial board at the New York Times to throw its proverbial hat into the ring of names. It settled on the word automobile. While the NYT was not the first to put the term in print, Scientific America did so several months before in review of a Winton, the opinion piece did play a key role in persuading the American public to adopt the term. Getting folks to do so required a bit of poking. The article read in part,

There is something uncanny about these newfangled vehicles. They are all unutterably ugly and never a one of them has been provided with a good or even an endurable name. The French, who are usually orthodox in their etymology if in nothing else, have evolved “automobile,” which being half Greek and half Latin is so near to indecent that we print it with hesitation; while speakers of English have been fatally attracted by the irrelevant word “horseless.”

While the first use of the word automobile from the New York Times may not have been used in the kindest sense, it decidedly had a nice ring to it. The Times, being ever influential, especially then, soon permanently adopted the term for its own style guide. Were it not for the opinion piece, we may very well still be saying we are going to jump in our autoswains for a jaunt down the strata, or something like that.

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