OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE
Selling the Sizzle
By Jim Hinckley
Electric Automobile - Baker R&L Company.
In the world of marketing, advertising, and sales, substance often takes
a back seat to perception. Catch phrases, slogans, and jingles translate
into revenue; even if the product being sold is little different from
that offered by a competitor, or the product quality is a bit
From its inception the development of automotive advertisement was a
sorcerer’s blend of alchemy, P.T. Barnum styled word pictures, and a
hint of psychology. When it comes to the selling of the sizzle rather
than the steak, the wordsmiths that worked for automotive marketing
companies and advertisers were, and are, true artists.
However, the value in automotive advertisement is not always measured in
dollars and sense. As vintage promotional material is a window into a
lost world, it transcends its original purpose and serves as an
invaluable time capsule long after the company being promoted has been
relegated to the ash heap of history.
As an example, consider some of the earliest pieces of automobile
promotional material produced in a time when there wasn’t even agreement
on what to call the contrivance.
The Porter Stanhope of 1900 was "The Only Perfect Automobile."
Advertisement for the 1901 Oldsmobile proclaimed that "electric vehicles
or vapor vehicles were the result of 15 years experience."
The Porter was "safe, simple,
and durable." "It is free from all complications in its mechanism, so
that an engineer is not necessary in its use."
The Oldsmobile featured "pneumatic cushion tires" and "…carriage body
free of machinery of any kind." "It automatically regulates its speed;
changes its spark for a high or low speed…"
The 1901 Phelps Tractor was simply a steam powered tricycle with reins
stretching back almost three feet to the rear. "By attaching the Phelps
steam powered tractor to a buggy, a surrey, a light spring wagon, or a
cart, you transform horse drawn equipment into an automotive
Pulling back on the reins cut the speed, stopped the unit, and also
served as the means for reversing. There were no brakes!
The Friedman Automobile Company of Chicago, Illinois proclaimed, "Try it
and you will buy it." After all, "every unit is guaranteed to climb any
grade up to 30% with an engine produces six horse-power."
Rather than trying to compete with other manufactures with claims of
mechanical prowess, the California Automobile Company of San Francisco,
California tried a different approach in 1902. "Our factory, where your
machine is made, is at your disposal for any repairs or breakage. These
can be attended to without the troublesome delays necessarily
encountered when dealing with Eastern firms."
During the infancy of the industry, gasoline or kerosene engines were
for the most part, untested technologies fraught with issues. So,
manufactures often hedged their bet. The Jackson Automobile Company of
Jackson, Michigan offered a six horse-power "gasoline road car" and the
steam powered Jaxon because "steam is reliable and easily understood."
In those early days the marketing of simplicity often trumped mechanical
advancement or advanced technology. The 1903 Fordmobile, "The Boss of
the Road" produced by Ford Motor Company was so simple that "…a boy of
15 can run it." The Wannaker was a car "…so simple in its operation that
a child or woman could drive it."
These vintage promotional pieces do more than mirror the evolution of
automotive technology and related advertisement. They often also present
a snap shot of the motoring experience.
The Pope Hartford of 1905 was, "An exceptional hill climber…" The Ford
Model F manufactured in the same year "…seats five people and climbs
hills on high speed."
The Allen is "The King of Hill Climbers." For the Jackson there is "No
Hill to Steep, No Sand to Deep."
Jackson Automobile Co. of Jackson, Michigan 1912 logo, courtesy
Packard used the slogan "Ask The Man Who Owns One..." in this 1908
The Gale for 1907 was the car that "climbs hills like a squirrel and
eats up the road like an express train." However, if speed was secondary
to the need of a vehicle more suitable to rural driving, the prospective
buyer might consider a Model produced by the Model Automobile Company of
Peru, Indiana since "hills and sand become level land" with one of these
Even though automotive technology made quantum leaps in the first years
of the 20th century, and automotive advertisement rode on its coat
tails, much of the promotional material from this period indicates there
was still a great deal of confusion about what exactly an automobile
was, or what its role in society was.
The Northern was "Silent and Dustless." The Adams-Farwell offered
motorists the advantages of a "revolving air-cooled engine" while the
Lambert offered the simplicity of "the friction drive car."
The 1908 Studebaker Suburban easily converted into a "smart runabout" or
a "combination passenger and baggage car" or "a light four passenger
In 1903, Packard launched a promotional campaign that changed
everything. "Packard Motor Car manufactured by the Packard Motor Car
Company of Warren, Ohio – Ask The Man Who Owns One."
Soon slogans and jingles were replacing wordy or heavily technical
promotional pieces. These early promotional pieces also offer a glimpse
in the formative years of the auto industry, as well as into the dawning
of the modern era of advertisement and marketing.
The Knox of 1904 was "The car that obviates the tow." In the same year
promotion for Cadillac proclaimed that it was "The automobile all makes
hope some day to equal."
"Equal to the $2500 kind but at one third the price" topped promotions
for the 1904 Rambler produced by the Thomas B. Jeffery & Company of
Kenosha, Wisconsin. The 1903 Roadster produced by Flint Automobile
Company of Flint, Michigan proclaimed that "Every Part is the Best,
Every Part is Accessible." This was also a car with a "muffler that
The American produced in Indianapolis, Indiana was "A Car for the
Discriminating Few." The Driggs was "Built with the precision of
ordnance." The Beggs was, "Made a little better than seems necessary."
The Martin was "the little brother of the aeroplane" and the Moore was,
"The World’s Biggest Little Automobile."
By 1910, it was quite apparent that the automobile was a permanent
fixture in American society. It was also obvious that for hundred of
manufactures to compete for their share of a very limited market, the
development of advertisement and promotion would need to become as
important as producing an automobile that reflected the latest in
cutting edge technologies.
It was the dawn of a new era.
Jim Hinckley, Legends Of America - October 2013
Continue to Selling the
Sizzle Part Two
About the Author:
Jim Hinckley is an award winning author and photographer, and an
official contributor to Legends Of America through a partnership developed
in October 2012. Hinckley is a former Associate Editor of Cars and Parts
Magazine, and author of multiple books, including several on Route 66.
His latest "The Route 66 Encyclopedia" is available with autograph via
Route 66 Chronicles, Jim's blog.
on Legends Of America
Introducing America's Most Modern Automobile -
In the Beginning (Automotive Pioneers)
Two Heads are Better Than One (The Stanley Brothers)
Bathtubs, Birdcages & Chevrolet (Automotive
Jackson - The Other Detroit
King of the Road (The Continental Era)
In Praise of Eccentricity (The Thin Line between
Progressive and Insanity in American Auto History)
One Foot in the Stirrup and One on the Throttle
(The Race to Gain Public Interest in Motor Vehicles)
Dawning of a New Age (Setting the Stage for the
Battle of the Titans)
Pessimism and Myopic Visionaries (Automobile Evolution)
20th Century History
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