The First Automobile in Texas
The First Automobile
The first gasoline powered automobile in Texas was purchased in 1899 by Colonel E. H. Green of Terrell, Texas. It was an 1899 "St. Louis" phaeton-runabout manufactured by the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company in Missouri. It had a buggy top and was powered by a two-cylinder engine and steered with a tiller type control (a bar rather than a wheel).
The photo shown here is a close example of Green's St. Louis, however this is a 1901 model. For the 1901 model year, the tiller steering mechanism was replaced with a steering wheel. Most 1901 American motor cars still used the tiller steering mechanism.
The First Car Guy Was a Train Guy
Col. Green was the president of the Texas Midland Railroad. He moved from New York to Terrell, Texas in 1892 at the age of 25. His mom, Henrietta Green, a millionaire, and also known as "the Witch of Wall Street," apparently acquired the ailing railroad through foreclosure and gave it to her son.
Even though Green had been given the railroad, he was actually quite competent at his job and turned the railroad into a profit-making business.
Green purchased the automobile while he was in Missouri serving as a committee chairman at the St. Louis Fair in 1899.
Although I don't know the details on how he found the car, I can certainly engage my imagination. I would guess that the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company had a fine display at the fair. I can imagine an excited crowd pressing in to get a glimpse of the amazing horseless carriage. While on his way to a committee meeting the automobile catches Col. Green's eye and works his way through the crowd. Quickly spotted as a man of means, the Colonel was invited in and given a personal demonstration and a fine sales pitch. Sold!
The photo included in this section shows Green and his driver, Jesse Illingsworth. This is probably not Green's first automobile (Note that this automobile has a steering wheel rather than the tiller steering mechanism found on the 1899 St. Louis). Green had a driver, not because he was rich, but because he had lost his leg after an accident when he was a child. Jesse Illingsworth was not only his driver, he also drove some of Green's vehicles in well publicized races.
After purchasing the new automobile, arrangements were made to have it transported to Terrell, Texas by locomotive. It arrived in Terrell in October of 1899. Accompanying the vehicle was George P. Dorris, the co-owner and engineer of the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company.
I have no doubt that this initial meeting was nothing less than giddy. I can imagine that Mr. Dorris was proud to show off his amazing machine to its new owner and provide detailed instructions on the operation and maintenance of the new automobile.
What ever happened in this meeting was not done in secret. Accounts say that they "raced" down the streets at 15 mph! The town was certainly all a buzz with excitement, but the horses were quite wary of the noisy buggy that moved by itself!
The journey, however, was not over. I have no doubt that Green knew the significance of the arrival of the automobile. As a business man, I believe he saw a greater opportunity some thirty-five miles away, in Dallas. This would be a great marketing opportunity for Green. And my guess is Mr. Dorris was quite happy to receive publicity for the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company also. Brilliant!
The two men then set forth on a historic country cruise to the city of Dallas. But the trip was not without incident. Along the way they encountered a farm wagon and they were crowded off the road and in to a ditch. The incident must have been serious enough to necessitate some repairs. A blacksmith in Forney, Texas ends up being the first person to repair an automobile in Texas.
The thirty-mile drive to Dallas took over five hours.
This was the first of many firsts. The first automobile owner was E. H. Green, a train guy. The first automobile in Texas was a St. Louis. Terrell, Texas was the first town to have an automobile on its streets. The first road trip was from Terrell to Dallas. The first accident and first automobile repair happend near Forney. And finally, they were the first to drive an automobile into Dallas, with great fanfare!
But That's Not All
The story doesn't end here. Col. Green used his status and love for machines to advance the progress of the automobile in Texas.
You will read more about this fascinating man, as well as others, in future articles as we continue to explore the genesis of the automobile age in Texas.
Also in 1899
According to the Texas Transportation Museum's website, the Staacke Brothers livery service on Commerce Street had at least one electric vehicle for sale in their inventory of carriages in 1899. This is according to a Staacke Brothers ad in the San Antonio paper. The Staacke Brothers building still stands in San Antonio and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Henry Ford joins a group that founds the Detroit Automobile Company. However, Ford leaves the company within a year. The company stalled and was dissolved in January 1901.
Ransom Olds, the namesake of Oldsmobile, sold his original business, the Olds Motor Vehicle Company of Lansing, Michigan in 1899. He relocated to Detroit and renamed his company the Olds Motor Works.
Photo Credit: 1901 St. Louis Photo