In celebration of the centennial of the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) and a century of leisure road travel across America, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) joined automotive and 1915 World’s Fair enthusiasts at the Palace of Fine Arts on Aug. 19 to welcome the arrival of a 1915 Ford Model T. The car’s 3,500-mile trip recreated the cross-country journey that Edsel Ford took 100 years ago in a similar Model T.
The trip, which ended in San Francisco, intended to elevate national awareness concerning the importance the United States’ automotive heritage and the role of the Ford Model T in shaping America.
In the summer of 1915, 21-year-old Edsel Ford, the only son of Henry Ford, and six of his boyhood friends were among the thousands of Americans that took to the road to visit the west and the world’s fair exposition in San Francisco. At the PPIE, the Ford Motor Co. had one of the most popular exhibits at the fair — a working Model T assembly line that produced about 18 cars each afternoon and more than 4,000 Model Ts during the course of the World’s Fair. The whereabouts of the original Edsel Ford Model T is not known.
The PPIE was widely promoted and provided the impetus for many automobile owners to make adventurous cross-country tours using early “national” highway systems from east to west.
HVA’s “Road Trip Century Celebration” was launched on July 17 with a HVA driving team using a refurbished 1915 Ford Model T similar to the one Edsel Ford drove in his 1915 journey from Detroit to San Francisco. HVA collaborated with the Antique Automobile Club of American Library, the California Historical Society and PPIE100 to plan and recapture the original journey.
“The trip has provided the HVA team with a greater appreciation of the development of our national road system and those early pioneers who experienced cross-country travel by automobile,” said Mark Gessler, president of the Historic Vehicle Association. “The excitement and enthusiasm of all the people we met as we traveled through small cities and towns was a wonderful experience. The smiles, the memories and the Model T stories we heard made this trip very special.”
Throughout the journey the HVA met with historians, heritage specialists, preservationists and academic experts to help trace the origins of the American road trip. Edsel Ford’s trip was extremely well documented with nearly 200 photographs and daily journal entries. The HVA considers it one of the most well-documented early American road trips done purely for pleasure. Edsel Ford traveled through developing roads that were deemed “drivable” at the time. And, for the first time, one could consider a cross-country trip via the automobile.
“Edsel Ford’s cross-country journey is symbolic of how the PPIE brought out the amazing spirit, enthusiasm and innovation of so many people,” said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, which is overseeing the city’s PPIE100 celebration. “We are so proud to welcome the HVA to San Francisco as it concludes this epic journey to recreate what was an important milestone with historical significance from 1915.”
In recreating Edsel Ford’s journey, the HVA’s Road Trip Century Celebration traveled in the Model T to many historic sites on its way to San Francisco, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, the El Vaquero Harvey House (Dodge City, Kan.), the Summit House at Pikes Peak, the Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park. The HVA followed the National Old Trails Highway route from Detroit to Los Angeles. Portions of the National Old Trails Road later became Route 66.
For most of the trip, the HVA traveled on back road dirt and gravel sections of the original route. The Model T had a top speed of approximately 40 mph, but for most of the trip, the car averaged between 25 and 30 mph. Remarkably, the HVA 1915 Model T did not suffer any significant breakdowns. The only issue was a flat tire in Kansas that later led to a quick change of the left rear wooden wheel.
The entire Road Trip Century Celebration can be viewed at www.drivehis
tory.org. For more information about PPIE100 and events, activities and the history of the 1915 World’s Fair, visit PPIE100.org.
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