1925: They Weren’t The First, Or the Last, To Go Coast-to-Coast, But They Did It Nonstop

August 30, 1925

Two officials of the American Automobile Association (AAA) headed out of Washington, D.C., for an ambitious transcontinental motor vehicle trip to California. AAA President Thomas P. Henry and Ernest N. Smith, general manager of that organization, undertook that long drive to participate in the festivities commemorating California’s 75th anniversary as a state.

Both men, however, also sought to demonstrate that – thanks to major highway improvements and upgrades over the previous few years – it was now possible to travel from the Eastern Seaboard to California in a week’s time. After departing the nation’s capital from the Zero Milestone monument near the White House, Henry and Smith drove along stretches of both the Lincoln Highway (a direct coast-to-coast route between New York City and San Francisco) and Victory Highway (an auto trail likewise linking those cities but running more to the south) to reach the Golden State.

These men drove around the clock in shifts, with a Pullman bed set up in the rear of their Cadillac for sleeping. Henry and Smith found the highway conditions en route to be generally favorable. Without exceeding the speed limits in any of the states that they drove through, Henry and Smith were able to average 500 miles (804.7 kilometers) a day and in the process cut two days off their targeted timeframe for making it to California.

On September 4, these cross-country travelers arrived at California’s border with Nevada. They were welcomed there by Burton A. Towne, first vice president of the California State Automobile Association. According to one newspaper, that association’s Secretary and General Manager D.E. Watkins “characterized the trip in many respects as the most important undertaken since the days of the covered wagon.” Henry and Smith officially completed what was called their “transcontinental Diamond Jubilee tour” two days later in San Francisco.

Additional information on the 1925 transcontinental automobile trip undertaken by Thomas P. Henry and Ernest N. Smith is available at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/numbers.cfm.

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