By RUTH MORGAN
For Starkville Daily News
The first automobiles in the county appeared about 1904. Professor Albert Barnes of the college owned the first car in the county. Allie Rand and Willis Garth soon afterward had cars along with General J.A. Glenn. One of the early cars was a little red Maxwell, able to make about 20 miles an hour. The number of cars increased slowly. The mounting traffic between the college and Starkville prompted some progressive citizens, by means of public subscriptions, to build a narrow gravel road between the two places, which was the first hard-surfaced road in the county.
The following composition, which describes seeing the first car on campus was found in the files at the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum but no name was given. The “loop” in front of the hospital would have been the circle around Lee Hall. George Hall, the hospital, at this time is across the street from Lee Hall.
It was a balmy spring afternoon, and I had chosen to make a visit to my dear friend, Mary Gallaway. We sat on a small bench beneath a shade tree and were discussing the particular incidents of our world in a dilatory attitude when around the corner of the house came “Aunt Tempy,” the Gallaway’s cook. She was very dark under her white turban, and her arms were piled with sticks of stove wood which fell to the right and left as she attempted to run, an almost impossible venture because of her very ample avoirdupois, all the time calling to us “come on ‘chiluns’ ‘here come dat’ ‘lection buggy.” We joined her unhesitatingly as around the circle came an auto of the first model, high seat with crankshaft on the side - somewhat resembling a giant size coffee mill. We were completely enthralled by this, a marvel of the New Age, just beginning.
The whole affair was completely finished in style by the owner’s garb. Professor Barnes, Head of the Department of Mechanics was the owner. He wore a linen duster down to the shoe tops, a jaunty auto cap with bill, black gauntlets and great dark goggles which were the finishing touches. As he made the turn around the loop in front of the hospital the wayfarers followed in pursuit but were soon outstripped and gave up the chase.
However, I must say that Professor Barnes was most generous, and I am sure that every child had a ride in that first automobile that sped at the amazing rate (as we thought then) around the circle. It was to us the marvel of the age but it in no way approached in appearance the palatial machines that whirl madly over concrete highways and bring death to hundreds in the enlightened age.
We had a young lady visitor in our home at that time and she was entertained by Professor and Mrs. Barnes, and it gave me much pride to see our guest step into the “car” and go dashing off to the party. I was elated at the thought of being whisked like Cinderella, away in not a “coach” but an automobile.
These vehicles created a great sensation along the rural roads of our section of the fields and woods as we whirled along the highway. Not only were the horses upset, the occupants of the usual vehicles were made nervous by the fear of the reaction of the steeds behind whom they had jugged through many a trip with ease. One group padding along on a calm Sunday afternoon ride, suddenly were galvanized into action by the thought of the animals possible fright. Whereupon one of the colored riders whipped off her under skirt, mounted the wagon wheel and bounced to the ground where up she swathed the horses’ heads in the petticoat.
The wagon came to a standstill and with calm restored, the horses meekly waited to be unswathed. Whereupon the colored group stood to one side of the road and the auto pursued its way along the thoroughfare, such was the usage in the early years of motoring.
Mrs. Lucy Cole, an avid historian of the county, told of the first motorized vehicle that drove people to the Mississippi State campus. It was a red bus called the “Red Devil.” Before that, people usually took the train to the college. The first car she ever rode in belonged to Dr. Jim Eckford. He made a house call (doctor’s visit) on South Washington Street and offered the children a ride. There were so many children; she had to sit on the floor. Thus, she could not see much and was very disappointed in her first ride. She said their horses were afraid of cars so they took them out to Dr. Eckford’s to spend the night with the car to accustom them to it.
Most people are familiar with the cars made by Ford in the early years but Henry Ford was not the first producer of the automobile. Karl Benz introduced the first gasoline powered auto in 1885 in Europe. His car ran on three wheels and looked like a very big tricycle that had no pedals and could hold two people. In America, John W. Lambert built a gasoline-powered car to grace the rough horse and buggy roads in 1891. When one man saw this contraption coming down the road for the first time, he thought to himself “where in heaven’s name is the horse?”
The idea of the “horseless carriage” caught on quickly. By 1893, two brothers, Charles and Frank Duryea built their own gasoline powered car. It had one-cylinder engine with a three-speed transmission. The first run of their car went about 7.5 miles per hour and they were able to get it to go 200 feet until a mound of dirt in the road got in its way and stopped it. This was a far cry from the distance that Benz was able to get his car to go (about 65 miles).
The Duryea brothers did not give up. In fact, they considered their 200 feet ride a huge success. Frank Duryea built the next car by himself.
After two years of fine-tuning the car, the Duryea brothers gathered enough interest from investors to start the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. In 1896, they built 13 almost identical models of the Duryea Motor Wagon. Although this sounds like a very small number of cars to produce, it was actually a significant number because it was the first time anyone ever tried to mass-produce automobiles. Unfortunately, this mass production company didn’t last long. At a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 a car, the average American couldn’t afford a Duryea Motor Wagon. After 13 were built, the brothers sold their company.
The Duryea brothers paved the way for men like Henry Ford to mass-produce and sell automobiles at a price that everyone could afford.
Let’s give them the credit they deserve for a job well done.
The Maxwell was among the earliest motorcars on American roads, a creation of Jonathan Dixon Maxwell (1864-1928), and a native of Howard County, Indiana.
Jonathan Maxwell started out as a bicycle repairman, became a machinist, and worked in the railroad industry before joining the turn-of-the-century obsession with automobiles. Before 1900, he worked with Elwood Haynes in building an automobile which is now in the Smithsonian Institution, and he later worked with Eli Olds, developer of the Oldsmobile.
The first automobile to bear Maxwell’s name came in 1904 and was called the Maxwell Runabout. With a two-cylinder engine, the car sold for about $500. It was produced by the Maxwell-Briscoe Company which Jonathan Maxwell formed in 1903 with Benjamin Briscoe. As their company grew, it merged with another to become the United States Motor Company.
Maxwell and Briscoe parted company in 1912, but Jonathan Maxwell continued to produce cars under the banner of his own Maxwell Motor Company. At various times, he built cars in Tarrytown, N.Y., Pawtucket, R.I., New Castle, Ind., Detroit, Mich., and Canada.
Maxwell automobiles were considered to be among the best racing machines of the era and won trophies to back up that reputation. In 1916, a Maxwell touring car set a coast-to-coast record, speeding from New Jersey to California in just 10 days and 16 hours. Another Maxwell challenged the Pennsylvania Railroad’s vaunted “Congressional Limited,” racing the train over the 40 miles from Washington to Baltimore and arriving just four minutes behind.
Other than by antique car buffs, Maxwell cars are most often remembered as Jack Benchoice, because Benny made comments about his old Maxwell a staple of his comedy routines. He and his sidekick, Rochester, worked his Maxwell into their act starting in the thirties and kept it there for another five decades.
Walter P. Chrysler joined the Maxwell Motor Company in 1921 and later became the owner. He continued using the Maxwell name until 1925 and then phased it out. For several years, what had been the Maxwell was called the Chrysler Four. Then it became the Chrysler Plymouth. Finally, it was called the Plymouth, a name which has survived to the present. With a recent announcement that the Plymouth name will be dropped, however, the Maxwell automotive heritage comes to the end of the road — almost a century after it began.
In their heyday, Maxwell motorcars were prized by their owners and sported the latest innovations. A 1921 advertisement touted the Maxwell’s “wood artillery wheels, side curtains on really solid rods and supports, and a special curtain compartment in back of the front seat.”
Maxwells came along at a time when Americans were first discovering the freedom and just plain fun offered by revolutionary advancements in transportation. People were in love with their cars, and they even rhapsodized about them in song. One of the big hits of the era was “Come Along with Me, Lucille, in My Merry Oldsmobile.” Another song, not as well known today but quite popular at the time, hit closer to home — “Mack’s Swell Car Was a Maxwell.” This information was provided by William Maxwell of Carlisle, Pa.