Early Auto Travel

In the first years of the 20th century, only the very wealthy could afford automobiles and of these select few, only the most daring undertook the long and difficult journey across the country. In 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson and Sewall Crocker made the first successful transcontinental journey from San Francisco to New York in 63 days and 15 hours. Alice Huyler-Ramsey became the first woman to drive across the country when she made the journey with 3 female companions in 1909.
An old car driving on a dirt road.
At this time the 2.5 million miles of road in the United States were mostly dirt, making them bumpy and dusty in dry weather and impassible in wet weather. The poor conditions of the roads were especially demanding on a traveler's vehicle and frequent breakdowns demanded that these early auto motorists be self-reliant and serve as their own mechanics. Average Americans preferred to make the long-distance trip via railroad, which took less than one week. In comparison, an automobile trip from New York City to San Francisco in 1908 would have taken 60 to 90 days.