1899: A Multi-State Road Trip Leads to the Introduction of an Important Word in America’s Transportation Vocabulary

May 22, 1899

A new and important word found its way into the transportation lexicon of the United States when Charles B. Shanks, a reporter with the Cleveland-based Plain Dealer newspaper, became the first known person in the country to use the French word “automobile.” This word made its official American debut in the first of a series of articles written by Shanks about a road trip he was taking at that time with Alexander Winton between Cleveland and New York City in one of that car magnate’s vehicles. 

According to Shanks, “the automobile will doubtless become the most convenient mode of transport during the 20th century. The Plain Dealer is endeavoring to demonstrate the entire feasibility of this mode of locomotion.” Thanks to Shanks, the word “automobile” quickly caught on with the public and ultimately replaced the phrase “horseless carriage” to describe those motorized vehicles that were showing up in increasingly larger numbers on roads throughout the United States.

The above 1899 photo depicts both Winton (left) and Shanks (right).

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the May 1899 road trip undertaken by Alexander Winton and Charles Shanks is available at https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/cleveland-new-york-drive

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