Throwback Thursday | The Rise of Personal Motorized Mobility

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | SouthPasadenan.com | Pasadena Motorcycle Club (1911)

At the turn of the century, gasoline-powered motors fit easily into beefed-up frames of bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. And within a decade, motorized bicycles (motorcycles) and horseless carriages (automobiles) were all the rage.

Pictured above, the Pasadena Motorcycle Club gathered on April 28, 1911, to ride through orange groves to Ventura and back. The distance traveled was 163 miles and took 8 hours and 5 minutes to accomplish.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Carl Marsh and his Indian motorcycle, South Pasadena (1911)

South Pasadena resident Carl Marsh poses for a picture with his Indian motorcycle before joining the rally at Raymond Avenue and Green Street in Pasadena.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Open Steck Seat Surrey (1908)

Note how this surrey compares with the motorized version in the photograph below.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Pasadena family on their way to church (1910)

This early automobile looks very much like the horse-pulled version of its predecessor, the buggy. Notice the steering arm in the driver’s lap and nearby handbrake. In only a few years the automobile would change dramatically. The next generation came with a steering wheel and foot brake.

Pasadena Museum of History | SouthPasadenan.com | Automobile enthusiast and Colorado Street Bridge (1913)

Pictured above, Pasadena motorist John Jacobs takes his 1910 Haynes Runabout out for a morning spin on Arroyo Blvd. (the newly-constructed Colorado Street Bridge towering in the background). Notice again how first automobiles shared several design elements in common with the horse-drawn carriage (wooden spoke rims and buggy-style lanterns).

Now, the discussion shifted to making the automobile more affordable – so that every family could afford one. President Theodore Roosevelt cited the many advances in reliability, serviceability, and economies in automobile mass production that he believed would lower the cost of ownership. “Soon every working man will be able to afford one,” he predicted.

Newer model vehicles with larger engines produced considerably more horsepower. The sense of freedom the automobile provided coupled with the growing interest of city governments and taxpayers to build better roads, assured the automobile was here to stay.

Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.

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