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Early Automobile Days

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Early Automobile Days




Although we can’t be absolutely sure, the first horseless carriage that appeared in Richmond in all probability was a sort of motorized buggy driven into town in the year 1900 by a Lexington traveling salesman for Dr. Pierce’s patent medicines. It caused some considerable talk and some speculation about the future of the horse. Even the Climax editor made notice of this first automobile on the streets of Richmond.

The first automobiles invented in the 1890’s were the Duryea, Haynes, King, Winton, Seldon and, of course, the Ford. In 1899 there were only about 50 cars in the whole U.S. After 1910, when the Seldon-Ford infringement of patents case was finally settled, a considerable number of manufacturers started producing cars including Studebaker, Oldsmobile, Packard, Hudson, Auburn, Lexington, and the Reo Speedwagon.

Some folks say that the first automobile owned by a resident of Richmond was that which Ben Banks bought in some large city to the north and brought here in 1906. Other early Richmond autos were owned by Z.T. Zaring and the Soper brothers, Charles and Lewis. This Soper auto, which was purchased sometime around 1912, was a small bright red “runabout” with a canvas top which was raised up like a modern convertible top and buckled to the upper frame around the windshield.

Also in the early 1900's the electric car, a smooth, quiet sort of ladies' car, appeared in town. Some say there were three, two of which belonged to Mrs. Tut Burnam and Mrs. Lyman (Minerva) Parrish.

One of the interesting early customs connected with the automobile in Richmond was born of necessity. As the auto with its unusual sight and sounds approached a horse-drawn vehicle, it was likely that the horses would be frightened. The driver of the buggy or wagon would throw up his hand, indicating that the operator of the automobile was to stop until the horses could be calmed down and taken past the disturbing machine. We can imagine that a lot of unkind things were shouted at those early drivers.


Dr. Robert Grise





Dr. Robert Grise, “Early Automobile Days,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed August 10, 2020,