This Month in Automotive History - Alice Huyler Ramsey Becomes First Woman to Drive Cross-Country
Right about this time 106 years ago, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey was setting off on what began as a publicity stunt for carmaker Maxwell-Briscoe, but would become a historic feat for women. After 59 days and 3,800 miles, the Hackensack, NJ housewife and mom would wrap a journey from Hell's Gate in Manhattan, NY to San Francisco, CA in a four-cylinder, 30-horsepower 1909 Maxwell DA, a touring car with two bench seats and a removable pantasote roof. Greeted by the paparazzi of the day, she and her traveling companions would become the first women ever to drive across the United States.
At the time, a woman behind the wheel was an infrequent sight, and frowned upon by many of the upper crust of society. But Ramsey and her wily companions - two older sisters-in-law and a 16-year-old female friend - paid no mind to the naysayers.
The journey proved quite the girl trip. Though the group was provided with maps from the American Automobile Association, only a small portion of the roadways along the route - 152 of the 3,600 miles - were paved. Instead, the women navigated by using telephone poles, following those with the most wires in hopes they'd lead to a nearby town. At one juncture, the women struggled to find a yellow house and barn at which they were supposed to turn left. Turns out a horse-loyal farmer had deliberately duped them by repainting the barn in green.
There was no shortage of Hollywood-worthy plot twists along the way. The women crossed the trail of a manhunt for a killer in Nebraska, encountered a Native American hunting party with bows and arrows drawn in Nevada and battled a bad case of bed bugs at a Wyoming hotel. When car trouble struck, Ramsey changed 11 tires, cleaned the spark plugs, repaired a broken brake pedal and slept in the car when it was stuck in mud or while waiting for creek waters to recede far enough that the car could cross.
Ramsey would go on to drive cross-country more than 30 times over the course of her life, and recounted the story of the original journey in her book, Veil, Duster and Tire Iron, published in 1961. The year before, she AAA name Ramsey its Woman Motorist of the Century, and in 2000, she became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
We here at E3 Spark Plugs honor the story of Alice and her merry band of automotive adventurers. Do you have a great cross-country drive story? Post your pics and stories on the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook Fan Page.