On this, the day they race the #Daytona500, reflect on #NewYork’s own love affair with the #HorselessCarriage. Predictably, the first New Yorker to own an automobile was that irrepressible Irish bellhop-turned-railroad-millionaire, #DiamondJimBrady.
And just as predictably, he acquired his Woods Electric Brougham not in #Gotham, but at that symbol of #Chicago’s competition with the #BigApple, the #ColumbianExposition. The car arrived in #NYC in 1895, complete with an African-American mechanic, William Johnson.
Brady promptly hired Johnson as his chauffeur. For once, conquering his desire for immediate gratification, Brady insisted that they first test the new contraption, taking it onto the city streets only in the dead of night, until convinced of its reliability. Then he informed the press.
With Johnson dressed as one paper put it in a uniform ‘that would put an admiral in the Peruvian navy to shame’, he paraded from 57th Street to #MadisonSquare, chased by delighted dogs and small children. He put five horse teams to flight, while disappointing the roadside gamblers who placed wagers on when exactly his machine would break down or kill him in some spectacular way. He gave rides to the courageous and tied up ‘traffic’ for two hours.
The police promptly banned him from the daytime streets.
The genie was out of the bottle, however. By 1899, #NYC boasted a fleet of electric taxi cabs and cabby Jacob German would earn himself the city’s first speeding ticket, arrested by a cop on a bicycle, for racing along #Broadway at 12mph, a speed that the #NYTimes blasted as ‘breakneck’ and ‘reckless’. Auto races around #Manhattan quickly became a thing, often beginning under the very nose of the authorities at #CityHall, led by #WilliamVanderbilt, who would one-up German with an 18mph infraction; he was caught, only because his vehicle conked out after hitting a pothole at ‘speed’. The #GildedAge automobile was very much a toy of the rich, and in the hands of the more irresponsible of that class, threatened to kill off an American love affair before it ever got going. #WoodrowWilson, was typical in labeling the car the perfect symbol of the ‘arrogance of wealth’.