The Glidden Tours

How to introduce a new technology and get needed infrastructure for its wide-spread adoption? Establish an annual public event. This is what AAA did in the early 1900s. The automobile was not yet widely owned or even widely experienced. (Cars rumbling past sometimes scared horses.) And there were no car-grade roads.

In 1904, AAA initiated road rallies that wound through New England and Canada. The contestants had to be knowledgeable about cars and quite inventive to keep their cars running for the entire race. No gas stations, no paved roads. Cars routinely broke down or got flat tires.

The next year in 1905 a wealthy businessman who was a car enthusiast himself—he and his wife travelled around the world by car—started to sponsor the rallies and bestowed a trophy on the winner. The name of the race changed to Glidden Tours.

The Glidden Tours were an excellent way to introduce cars to Americans (and Canadians) and to publicize the need for better roads. Once the tour had served its purpose, it devolved into a venue for car manufacturers to show off their latest cars and test the reliability of these cars. At this point, the Glidden Tours ceased with the last tour in 1913.

Interestingly, in 1946 the VMCCA (Veteran Motor Car Club of America) revived the Glidden Tours. Now the tours are a festival of sorts for owners of antique cars to take their cars out for a spin.

Fun fact: A photo of Charles Jasper Glidden posing with carmaker Elwood Haynes—one of the early car makers—graces the Haynes museum in Kokomo, Indiana.

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