The Vermont Doctor Who Made The First Cross Country Car Road Trip In US History
In 1903, a successful physician took what ended up being more than a two-month trip by automobile across the United States
A classic rites of passage is taking a cross country trip across the United States by car. Dealing with the stresses such a voyage presents, along with seeing a large swath of the country, is an adventure few forget. Even today, the heartiest drivers motor for hours and hours over the course of days (It is possible technically possible to complete in two days of non-stop driving) to go from coast to coast. However, the very first time this big trip was accomplished by car was well over 100 years ago in a vehicle that topped out at 20 miles per hour.
The first known instance of someone driving an automobile across the country occurred in 1903 when 31-year-old Horatio Nelson Jackson, a married doctor from Burlington, Vermont, decided to give it a go. Cars were still in their infancy, as horse and train remained the predominant forms of travel. In fact, cars had only been on the road in any form for seven years up until that time.
Starting in San Francisco at the University Club, Jackson had to essentially start from scratch. Mark Bushnell of VTDigger.com, indicates that at the time the United States had around 2.3 million miles of roads but only 150 miles of those were paved. An additional 150,000 miles of road were “improved,” but that typically meant little more than some scattered gravel.
Some stories suggest that Jackson embarked on the voyage to win a $50 wager he had made with a member of the University Club, claiming he could reach the other side of the country within three months. However, there is no definitive proof that such a bet was actually made. At a time when many people were exploring and testing the limits of technology, good origin stories helped with publicity.
Prior to departing for home in Vermont on May 23rd, Jackson and his wife Bertha had been visiting California during the winter months. Upon deciding to see what he could do with an automobile, he packed his wife off for home on a train and reiterated his intent to join her within a few months.