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Henry Ford sits in his first automobile, the Ford Quadricycle, in 1896. Also called a horseless carriage, it sold for $200.
Henry Ford sits in his first automobile, the Ford Quadricycle, in 1896. Also called a horseless carriage, it sold for $200. Newsweek, via Wikipedia

Time Machine (1896): A ride in a horseless carriage

This article was originally published in the May 31, 1896, edition of the San Francisco Call. Horseless carriage is a term for early automobiles. At the time, carriages were pulled by animals, typically horses, but the new automobiles were not.

The age of the horseless carriage is coming. The new technology is sure to spread as it is impossible to deny its usefulness. 

The horse owners may argue that pleasure-loving men will never trade the horse of flesh and blood for a 20th century machine. They may claim there is a lack of enjoyment and thrills. They may warn of the danger in riding on a machine run by electricity and gasoline. They will be proved wrong, though. Every great technological advance throughout history was met with doubt by some.

The steam car was once just as much of a worry as the horseless carriage is today. Not a hundred years has gone by since steam was first used in paddlewheel boats and trains. Men in general didn’t think Edison’s electric light bulb would light the night. It did. It was not very long in doing it, too. A short time ago the telephone was a curious thing. Now everybody uses the telephone. Just about 12 years ago people said the electric streetcar would never be a success. Now it is in all the cities. It will be the same old story with the horseless carriage. 

Good Roads Will Spur Use

The subject of good roads is being discussed from one end of the state to the other. Down in California's Los Angeles County new roads will be important in the next election, and they may become a key issue in other counties as well. With the dawning of the day of good roads in the West will come the rising of the sun of the horseless carriage. Companies will cut down the prices as more people want horseless carriages. Soon we shall be able to buy an electric-motor buggy for about the cost of a roadhorse. 

“But how does it feel to ride in one of those electric carriages?” somebody is sure to ask. “Does the thing shake you up and deafen you with noises that keep your nerves on edge? Is it hard to steer? Aren’t you in fear of colliding with some vehicle or running into a pothole?” 

I can answer such questions, as yesterday I made a special trip in a horseless carriage for the very purpose of describing all that can happen. I was accompanied by J.M. Ough of the California Gas Engine Company. Ough is planning to build a number of horseless carriages. The vehicle we operated is the first of its kind in California. The route taken was through Alameda and over the country roads of Oakland in California.

Wow, 20 Miles An Hour!

We are comfortably seated in a good-looking carriage. A button under the seat is pressed.  An electric spark lights the gasoline. The engine sounds like a railway locomotive in starting, but not quite as loud, of course. There is the buzzing sound of electricity. The brake is then unlocked, and away starts the carriage. When it is moving, the noise is much less. It is amazing how smoothly the carriage travels. It speeds along at the rate of 15 to 20 miles an hour.  No vehicle ever turned sharp corners better than this horseless carriage. 

Horses aren't yet used to the horseless carriage. They are shy and move back quickly when they see one. Just ahead of us is a country woman driving a horse that shows signs of fear. Distracted, she jerks her horse toward us, but the horseless carriage easily avoids a crash. Had it been needed, the brake could have stopped the carriage. 

A horse is tied to a stake along the roadside by some oak trees.  As the horseless carriage passes, the horse jumps and breaks his rope. It runs off wildly afraid. No wonder horses get maddened at this new invention. They see themselves being replaced. The genius of man has created carriages that whirl over the land without the aid of any horse at all. 

Horses Can't Keep Up

The horseless carriage goes 20 miles an hour on a good, smooth road. A horse can jump ahead for a few seconds, but it will soon get tired. Electric power never gets tired. You can ride all day and all night in a horseless carriage. It will surely be a most valuable thing in an emergency. 

As we ride along, children see the horseless carriage. A couple of barefoot boys run along the side. They laugh and shout as we drive on. Near the beach a large crowd gathers quickly. They throw us questions from all directions. One needs a pile of answer sheets to explain everything to the crowd.

Along the beach the horseless carriage gets even more attention. The bathers in the water turn and watch us. The horseless carriage is so unusual most of them laugh at first. They then calm down and begin to think seriously about it. 

Safe Even On Crowded Streets

From the houses on the way, people, young and old, run out and look after the horseless carriage. The onlookers seem jealous. The traveling is smooth, and the carriage is comfortable and fast. Guiding it is so simple and easy that a ride in a horseless carriage is delightful. There is practically no danger at all, and, even though this carriage has been operated on crowded streets, it has never had any kind of an accident. An afternoon’s ride in a horseless carriage makes a person want to own one. 

As soon as the counties of California get together on the all-important subject of good roads, and as soon as our highways are as well graded and paved as they should be, we shall we see many more horseless carriages in the West. Then the stable-keepers will start buying them up, and the bicycle will have a strong holiday rival in these pleasant vehicles.

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Anchor 1: What the Text Says

Which section highlights the idea that the horseless carriage is an advanced and convenient invention?


"Good Roads Will Spur Use"


"Wow, 20 Miles An Hour!"


"Horses Can't Keep Up"


"Safe Even On Crowded Streets"

Anchor 1: What the Text Says

Which paragraph in the introduction [paragraphs 1-4] supports the idea that people have come to rely on other inventions they disliked at first?

Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the following sentence.

It is amazing how smoothly the carriage travels.

How does using the word "amazing" affect the tone of the sentence above?


It shows a sense of misunderstanding about how the horseless carriage actually works.


It shows a sense of wonder about the impressive technology of the horseless carriage.


It shows a sense of uneasiness about the potential dangers of the horseless carriage.


It shows a sense of doubt that the horseless carriage will ever really take off.

Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read this sentence from the article.

With the dawning of the day of good roads in the West will come the rising of the sun of the horseless carriage.

Why does the author compare the dawn and rising sun with roads and the horseless carriage?


to show that there is no hope for good roads in the West so it is unlikely there will be many horseless carriages


to show that it will take a long time for new roads to be built and for people to buy horseless carriages


to show that new roads will immediately pop up all over the country and horseless carriages will be seen as soon as tomorrow


to show that new roads and horseless carriages are the beginning of a new and hopeful future


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