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America’s First Road Trip

One hundred twenty years ago, Horatio Nelson Jackson made a $50 bet with a colleague at the San Francisco University Club that he could drive a car from San Francisco to New York City in 90 days. The journey would be quite a challenge because at that time there were hardly any paved roads, road maps, or gas stations.

Jackson had no driving experience, no mechanical experience, and no maps to follow. He convinced a young mechanic and chauffeur, Sewall K. Crocker, to serve as his travel companion, mechanic, and backup driver. Together they left San Francisco on May 23, 1903 carrying a variety of supplies and spare parts, a block and tackle, cans for extra gasoline and oil, a Kodak camera, a rifle, a shotgun, and several pistols. They encountered numerous challenges including hauling the car across streams and running out of fuel. On June 6, the car broke down and they had to be towed to a nearby ranch by a cowboy on horseback.

Somewhere near Caldwell, Idaho, Jackson and Crocker obtained a dog named Bud. It turned out that the road dust bothered Bud’s eyes so much that Jackson fitted the dog with a pair of goggles. At this point, the trio became celebrities with the press coming out at every stop to take their picture and conduct interviews.

They arrived in New York City on July 26, 1903, 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes after commencing their journey in San Francisco, in the first automobile to successfully transit the North American continent. Their trip expended over 800 gallons of gasoline.

After claiming victory for his wager in New York, Jackson drove his car home to Vermont, where upon reaching the threshold of his garage, the drive chain snapped. It was one of the few original parts never replaced during the entire journey.




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