“The Pioneer National Exhibition of Motor Vehicles” is Opened in New York City

November 3, 1900

The first major automobile show in the United States opened on a Saturday evening at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The next day’s edition of the New York Times reported, “From the hour the doors of the big building swung inward until midnight a throng of spectators variously estimated at from 7,000 to 10,000 surged through the maze of narrow aisles between exhibits and dribbled up through the galleries and boxes.”

This event, which became known as “the horseless Horse Show,” was sponsored by the Automobile Club of America. While not the first automobile exhibition to be held in the United States or even at Madison Square Garden, the show was the largest one of its kind up to that time. This show also helped set the tone and scope for similar events in the ensuing years.

The New York Times stated, “In the number of exhibitors, the almost endless variety of motor vehicles exhibited, in the whole scale of this upon which this first show of the Automobile Club of America has been planned and carried out, there probably never has been its equal, at least not on this side of the Atlantic. It is really the pioneer National exhibition of motor vehicles in America.”

More than 70 companies were represented by displays at the show. The exhibitors included manufacturers of not only automobiles but also tires, brakes, and a host of accessories for those vehicles. Several publishers of automobile periodicals likewise had exhibits at the event.

The show also featured a 20-foot (6.1-meter)-wide track surrounding the exhibits; this track was used for driving and maneuverability demonstrations of several vehicles on display at Madison Square Garden. In addition, a steep wooden ramp was set up to test the hill-climbing capabilities of various vehicles.

“One of the pleasing incidents of the show was the midnight supper given in the concert hall of the Garden” towards the end of the week-long event, reported the New York Tribune. Those who gave speeches at this dinner included George F. Chamberlin, acting president of the Automobile Club of American and a lawyer; Robert Henry Thurston, the first professor of mechanical engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey; and Albert Carlton Bostwick, a banker and automobile enthusiast.

The New York Tribune noted, “Every speaker referred to the wonderful interest show in the horseless carriage and the remarkable industry which has been developed within such a short time.” This newspaper also reported, “Those who had attended the shows abroad said that none of them had illustrated the subject so well as the exhibit at the Garden had done.”

A decade later, the legacy of this show was highlighted in a Harper’s Weekly magazine article that had been written by H.P. Wilkin. “It happens that this is a peculiarly appropriate time to look back to the first annual automobile show held in America,” asserted Wilkin. “Even the most optimistic of the manufacturers who helped to make the first show in the Garden a success could hardly have foreseen the magnitude to which the show has since attained, the magnificent scale on which the decoration scheme is carried out, and the marvelous perfection to which the motor-cars themselves have been brought in the span of ten fleeting years.”

For more information on the first major automobile show held in the United States, please check out http://www.neautomuseum.org/blog/1st-u-s-auto-show-opened-in-new-york-city-115-years-ago/

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