Steaming to the Top of Mt. Washington

August 31, 1899

Automotive businessman Freelan Oscar Stanley became the first person to drive a car to the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest peak in New England. He was accompanied by his wife Flora as he navigated his steam-powered Locomobile up the steep 6,288-foot (1,916-meter)-tall mountain.

F.O. Stanley, circa 1910.

Stanley and his identical twin brother Francis Edgar Stanley had manufactured the first of their steam-engine vehicles (popularly referred to as “Stanley Steamers”) in 1897. The trek up Mount Washington may have been undertaken at least in part to help further promote this new means of transportation and demonstrate its reliability.

The 7.6-mile (12.2-kilometer) automotive climb up the mountain that summer afternoon was completed in two hours and 10 minutes (half the time of a horse-drawn wagon), not including stops along the way to refill the car with water. Stanley managed to reach the summit alive and intact by driving the Locomobile in low gear and braking frequently.

While these vehicles made by F.O. and F.E. Stanley (as they were widely known) did not prove profitable in the long term – steam motors would be eclipsed by internal combustion engines when it came to automotive travel – the drive up Mount Washington is still worth remembering. Among other things, the expedition proved the strength and effectiveness of the Mount Washington Carriage Road that had been in existence since 1861 and upon which the Stanleys traveled.

For more information on Freelan Oscar and Flora Stanley’s record-setting car ride to the top of Mount Washington, please check out https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/watertown-built-car-climbs-mt-washington.html.

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