Thursday, September 4, 2014
Early Automobile Trade Organizations and Clubs
Organization as Power
With the introduction of a small number of experimental vehicles and the realization that they had commercial possibilities, trade organizations were quickly established. In November 1895, on the eve of the first race of experimental automobiles that was to take place in Chicago, Charles B. King, a Detroit manufacturer, wrote to the editor of the new magazine The Horseless Age:
Realizing the fact we have already a large number of people in the country interested in the coming evolution, the motor vehicle, and in order to pave the way for this vehicle of the future, it is proposed to form a national organization which will have as its object the furtherance of all details connected with the broad subject, and hold stated meetings where papers can be read and discussions follow as to the respective merits of all points in question. Such an organization is needed now, and upon its formation would meet with the hearty co-operation of the newspapers, the friends of good roads and the public at large.
It is therefore proposed that such an organization be now formed and have as its name “The American Motor League.”31
The first meeting of this proposed group would take place November 1, 1895 in Chicago, with interested parties coming from Cincinnati; Philadelphia; Boston; Springfield, Massachusetts; Kokomo, Indiana; New York City; Canada; and Detroit. A draft constitution was adopted that called for this organization to “educate and agitate,” to “direct and correct legislation,” and to defend “the rights of . . . vehicles when threatened by adverse judicial decisions.”32
The Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) proved to be a more significant and studied trade organization. Its basis and actions have been thoroughly examined elsewhere.33 In short, the ALAM was the result of patent 549,160 granted to Rochester, New York attorney George B. Selden for a road vehicle that was to use an internal combustion engine using liquid hydrocarbons. It was an egregious error on the part of the Patent Office to grant such a patent, but it led to the formation of a number of car manufacturers who charged a license fee to anyone making an ICE-powered car and then distributed the proceeds to a Selden, a group of electric car manufacturers, and the ICE vehicle makers who had joined the group and adhered to its policies. Many car manufacturers, including Henry Ford, disregarded the ALAM and fought it in court, eventually winning their case, which led to the disbanding of this retrogressive organization. The ALAM story, however, illustrates the place in the automobile story for a study of organizations, including National Automobile Chamber of Commerce (NACC), the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, which remain to be more fully examined by scholars.
In addition to the trade organizations that emerged during the late 1800s, social organizations were quickly established once a critical number of automobiles fell into the hands of the well-to-do.34 The most significant of these early automobile clubs was the Automobile Club of America (ACA), established in New York City in 1899. Its mission was clearly stated in its 1903 Yearbook:
The objects of this corporation are the formation of a social organization or club, composed in whole or in part of persons owning self-propelled pleasure vehicles for personal or private use. To furnish a means of recording the experience of members and others using motor vehicles or automobiles. To promote original investigation in the mechanical development of motor carriages, by members and others. To arrange for pleasure runs and to encourage road contests of all kinds among owners of automobiles. To co-operate in securing rational legislation and rules governing and regulating the use of automobiles in city and country. To maintain the rights and privileges of all forms of self-propelled pleasure vehicles whenever and wherever such rights and privileges are menaced. To encourage the construction of good roads and improvement of the public highways. And generally to maintain a social club devoted to the sport of automobilism throughout the country.35
In addition to the ACA and the American Automobile Association (AAA), by 1903 there were thirteen automobile clubs in the state of New York, nine in Massachusetts, five in Ohio and four in Pennsylvania, with nineteen in other states and the District of Columbia. The AAA was organized in Chicago in March 1902.36 As a national federation of eight leading clubs, including the ACA, the AAA’s key role was to lobby for improved public highways, protect the legal rights of drivers, and regulate auto racing and endurance trials. In subsequently pursuing those objectives, the automobile became less a plaything for the elite and more a necessity for the rural and urban middle classes.