Feb 23, 2017

The Cars of 1914 in Schenectady, New York

I posted a blog entry recently that described my relationship with Frederick S. Mackintosh.  While researching that effort, I ran across a fascinating book, available through Google Books, called, "The Official Automobile Directory of the State of New York."  The specific issue that I used was dated 1914.  This little booklet, published by "J. R. Burton & Co., One Madison Avenue, New York," contained, according to its subtitle, a "list of permits issued, numerically arranged, with names and addresses of owners and make of cars."  The price of this gem was $2.00 in 1914.  This copy was property of the New York Public Library with Accession Number 558946 and was a gift of the "Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations."
In this 1914 image of downtown Schenectady, there are
very few cars to be seen.  Only about 100 autos
were registered in the city at that time.

In the front of the book is a "KEY, or EXPLANATION to ARRANGEMENT Of NUMBERS."  It explains, "
A consecutive arrangement of the license numbers has been attempted, but owing to the fact that licenses are issued from three different offices in the state it becomes necessary for the Automobile Bureau of the Secretary of State's Office to allot numbers to each office in advance of issue, in order to prevent duplication.  In the case of the Buffalo Office the allotment not being sufficient, series had to be adopted, thus we have the same number used several times, but in such cases, identification is established by a letter appearing before the number, thus, A101, B101, C101, or D101.

The Commercial cars are all grouped by themselves in the back of the book and are readily identified by the numbers from 1 to 25,000 with the letter "C" preceding.  Dealers' cars are designated by the letter "M" appearing before the number.  All privately owned or pleasure cars appear in the front of the book commencing with number one up to 65,999 being in Greater New York, beyond said number being up-State cars.  Where numbers are missing, it is due to no license having been issued to date up to date of going to press or same has been reserved
."  The listings begin on the very next page.

The first person to register a car in Greater New York, was Mr. Sylvan Levy, a resident of Brooklyn.  In fact, 9 of the first 10 cars registered in the metropolitan area were in Brooklyn, including Mr. Levy's Atlantic Automobile, a Stevens-Duryea, a Renault, a Benz, 2 Loziers, a Franklin, Hart, and Knox.  A second Renault was registered to a Mr. Oppenheimer of New York City.  Mr. Levy's car must not have been a very popular model, as I have been unable to uncover anything about an "Atlantic Automobile" until the 1920's.  His car must have been "orphaned" at a very young age.

By 1914, the Model T Ford was making substantial
inroads into the new car market, "putting America
on wheels!"
Right away you realize that one important piece of information is missing -- the model year of the car.  That would certainly make the information more insightful.  For example, we could determine when an individual (or company) replaced a vehicle by comparing data with previous year's listings.  You could also gain some insight into the longevity of various makes.

Of course, as soon as I became aware of this book, I wanted to learn more about the cars that existed in my home town, Schenectady, in 1914.  Here's some of the interesting information I uncovered:
  • The lowest-numbered registration in town (66020) was assigned to the Cadillac belonging to Dr. Henry A. Kurth, who lived about three blocks away on the same street I grew up on.
  • Of the roughly 100 automobiles registered in Schenectady in 1914, nearly 1/4 were on the street I grew up on -- Union Street.  This makes sense, since it was the primary residential axis of the growing city.
  • A neighbor who lived on the same block on which I was raised, Mr. Edwin W. Rice, Jr., had 4 cars registered in 1914 -- a Baker Electric, two Packards, and a Cadillac.  Times must have been good for Mr. Rice.  I cut grass for his widow when I was growing up.  They lived in a magnificent home that I recall as having an elevator.  He had died a few years before I was born, but was a president and considered one of the three fathers of General Electric (along with Elihu Thomson and Charles A. Coffin).
  • The City Fire Department registered an ALCO automobile, produced in Providence, but named for and manufactured by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) of Schenectady.
  • Mary Ellis, wife of the President of the American Locomotive Company, had her Packard registered (68683)
  • Irving Langmuir, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932, drove an Overland (71386)
  • At least one car, a Ford, was owned by two individuals, George Kelder and Jacob Hicks, of 740 State Street.
  • Some of the owners names are familiar to me because of businesses or locations that their names were associated with: 
    • Henry A. Kerste -- Kerste's Drug Store -- owned a Haynes
    • James W. Yelverton -- Veeder & Yelverton Insurance -- drove a Packard
    • Alvin J. Quackenbush -- Quackenbush Road -- had a Columbia
    • Willis T. Hanson -- President of my father's bank -- owned a Cadillac
    • Louis Nicholaus -- Nicholaus' Restaurant -- drove a Pierce
    • Charles W. Carl -- The Carl Co. (Department store) -- drove an Abbott
    • Andrew W. Mynderse -- Mynderse Beverages -- owned a Knox
    • Joseph Rindfleisch -- Rindfleisch Cleaners -- had a Cadillac
    • Frank Vander Bogert -- Vander Bogert Insurance -- owned a Cadillac
    • Bernard Franken, who owned a Chalmers in 1914, went on to become our Studebaker dealer
    • And Harry Potter, who lived on VanVranken Avenue, drove a Packard!
By 1914, cars had passed the stage of being rich men's toys.  They had advanced to a level of reliability and utility that made them a desirable device that could be counted on to do a job.  The Model T Ford had been introduced in late 1908 and was having a dramatic effect on the affordability of a car.  There were dozens and dozens of brands but by the mid 1920s, that trend would reverse.

A 1918 Dodge identical to my father's first car
To put these facts in context, my father was born in 1894 and saw his first motorcar around 1900.  He had not yet bought his first car in 1914, since he was only 20 years old and was struggling through the University of Michigan.  He would buy his first car in 1920, after he returned from World War I service in France.  He purchased a used 1918 Dodge Brothers touring car.  He would go on to own a Cole, a very used Rolls Royce, several Fords and Chevrolets, and the 1953 Mercury that I learned to drive in.

This little booklet can undoubtedly tell a lot more stories than I have uncovered here...

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