1908: The Year that Cars Crossed the Globe

As the 20th century dawned, the future of the automobile was in serious doubt. Known for being cranky and unsafe, one critic derided it as “the most fragile and capricious thing on earth.” But early enthusiasts knew the skeptics were wrong. To prove it, they launched a race around the world in 1908 to show what motor-driven vehicles were capable of. In 1908 most Americans had never seen an automobile. There were no highways and almost no paved roads. Buggy trails and railroad tracks were the state-of -the-art in transportation infrastructure. The idea of circumventing the globe in a “horseless carriage” was regarded as the height of insanity. VINTAGE: See more vintage and Brass Era cars on BoldRide! Nonetheless, on February 12, 1908, six cars from four countries (one from Italy, one from Germany, and three from France) set off westward from New York City. Their destination was Paris, 22,000 miles away. (Arrangements were made to ship those who made it to the west coast to Siberia by steamer).

1908: The Year that Cars Crossed the Globe

PHOTOS: See images of the 1904 De Dion-Bouton Model ADL

Few people thought that the competitors would ever be heard from again. They were proven wrong when the Thomas Flyer (a 1907 Thomas Model 35), driven by Americans, pulled into San Francisco 41 days later. On its way, the car had to slog through rivers of mud, do battle with angry bulls, and drive on the ties of railroad tracks for hundreds of miles. But it crossed the United States in the dead of winter, making it the first automobile to do so. After arriving in Siberia, the competitors crossed frozen tundra, deserts, and treacherous mountain passes, sometimes only traveling a few feet a day. Months later, Parisians looked in amazement as the Flyer entered their city on July 30, 1908. It was declared the winner, with German and Italian teams placed in second and third. Americans rejoiced, the critics were silenced, and a new era was born. The world would never be the same. RELATED: See more images of French cars on BoldRide! Photo Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection

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