Ocean to ocean race a trendsetter in 1909
Henry Ford used the 1909 Ocean to Ocean Endurance Race from New York to Seattle to prove that his cheap, tough, lightweight and flexible Model T was the kind of car America needed for its challenging roads.
Ford put his company’s Model T up against four heavyweights of the day: Stearns, Acme, Shawmut and Itala models.
Those cars weighed from 3,500 to 4,600 pounds, while the Model T was less than 1,000 pounds.
The coast-to-coast race covered 4,106 miles and lasted 22 days, starting June 1 from New York City Hall. Millionaire Robert Guggenheim was a major sponsor of the race.
The contest also was part of publicity connected to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle that year.
On June 1, 1909, President Taft pressed a golden telegraph key in Washington, which had the double effect of opening the Seattle exposition and signaling New York Mayor McClellan to fire a golden revolver to start the race.
“They were off for 22 days of indescribable driving conditions, requiring the drivers and the mechanics to be entirely self-reliant, highly creative and ingenious in overcoming the many obstacles before them,” according to the Web site connected to this year’s 100th anniversary repeat of the endurance race.
“The summer rains were terrible; the mud ubiquitous and a plague; streams had to be forded; the Fords (two were entered) were mired in quicksand. Often they became lost in deserts and badlands.”
The Seattle finish line was the Drumheller Fountain, center of the exposition and now part of the University of Washington.
A Model T Ford crossed the finish line first, as a happy Henry Ford stood close by.
From June to November, Ford launched a highly successful advertising campaign and media blitz which reminded U.S. consumers that his upstart Model T had won the endurance race, and it provided a large, positive jolt for Ford sales.
It was the first year of production for the Model T, and more than 15 million Model Ts would be manufactured through 1927, its last year.
There’s one important footnote: In November 1909, the Automobile Club of America declared the Shawmut as the endurance race’s official winner, even though it arrived in Seattle 17 hours later than the winning Ford.
The auto club said the Ford’s engine had been illegally substituted during part of the race. John Strickland, a Salisbury Model T expert, said he had always heard the Model T was disqualified for replacing a front axle after it hit a tree stump.
No matter, Henry Ford got what he wanted out of the race. And, in a way, so did today’s Model T lovers.
Information on the 1909 race comes from oceantoocean.ning.com.