This Collection of Articles from The Horseless Age is Incredible
Eighteen-hundred and ninety five. Rudolf Diesel patents the engine that will bear his name, frontier outlaw John Wesley Hardin -- a man so mean he once shot a man for snoring -- is killed in Texas, and George B. Seldin is granted the first patent for an automobile. And in New York City, a new periodical hits the stands called The Horseless Age, aiming to cover everything there was to know about conveyance by anything other than an animal. Amazingly, that periodical lives on today as Automotive Industry, making it one of the oldest trade publications, and the single oldest automotive publication still in existence.
The Horseless Age was the first effort, printed under that title from 1895 to July 1909. According to none other than Bill Gates, The Horseless Age was analogous to a trade publication that he was into in the 1970s: "If you go back and look at The Horseless Age," he said, "it's sort of like the Byte Magazine of the PC industry, very hardcore, covers all the models in-depth, explains what's going on inside...definitely part of getting things going."
PHOTOS: Full Galleries of the 1894 Benz Motor Velociped
It was something that everyone in that nascent industry was reading cover-to-cover. In that era, every good-sized town in America had a bicycle shop or a farrier that was suddenly an automotive pioneer, and they all wanted to know a little bit about what was going on in the industry. The Horseless Age was the window that allowed them to learn about new products, business practices and organizations that could help.
The amazing OpenLibrary.org has a compendium of articles from those early Horseless Age issues, entitled The Operation, Care and Repair of Automobiles. It was published in 1910, just as the publication briefly changed its name to The Automobile. It's a 300 page tome covering everything from general electrical principles to how to drive in the winter.
PHOTOS: Full Galleries of the 1902 Oldsmobile Curved Dash Runabout
It's got great tips on keeping your car clean: "Before attempting to rub any dust or mud off the varnish, it should be gone over thoroughly with a stream of water from a hose without nozzle. If too much pressure is applied, there is a danger of bespattering certain parts of the mechanism that should be kept dry," it reads. You've read articles in 2014 with almost exactly the same advice. That's what you call "evergreen" editorial.
Today, people who write articles about cars are schmucks like me who have qualifications like (A) English major, (B) wasn't good at math (C) likes cars. The people who wrote about cars in The Horseless Age were the people who were building the industry. There's an article on page 118 called "The Theory of Lubrication." It's written by a guy named J. W. G. Brooker, an Englishman who passed exams for Organic Chemistry at the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland. There's an article on tire maintenance on page 145 from CHARLES E. DURYEA, FOR GOD'S SAKE, the guy who built the very first gas-powered automobile. That's like reading an article in Entertainment Weekly on getting a good deal on film stock from Orson Welles.
PHOTOS: Full Galleries of the 1906 Cadillac Model K Light Runabout
Don't be scared of the text-heavy pages. This is a really great book, and you'll find something in here that will fascinate you for hours. Bought an old brass-era car and you want to know how to pour babbitt? Page 241. Interested in some turn-of-the-century plans for a private garage? Page 213. Want to know why early cars used calcium chloride antifreeze rather than glycol? Page 286. There's even a section on making your own body hoist. Check it out for free at Archive.org.