There had to be an easier way to win a $50 bet. When Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson wagered in May 1903 that he could drive from San Francisco to New York in 90 days, there were only 150 miles of paved road in the entire country. Jackson (at the wheel) enlisted Sewall Crocker as his mechanic and co-driver, and bought a used Winton touring car. It had no windshield and no top, but the right-side steering wheel handily tilted forward for easier entry and exit. A 2-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine thrummed under the driver’s seat, propelling the cherry-red Winton to a breathtaking 30 mph—provided it wasn’t bogged down on some muddy, rutted trace. Jackson and Crocker loaded the car with tools, tanks of extra gas and oil, and all the necessities they could carry. A spare tire was mounted on the front over an acetylene headlight. Bud, a bulldog, joined the party in Idaho, “and soon became an enthusiast for motoring,” Jackson noted. He was the only one “who used no profanity on the entire trip.” On July 26, 63 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes after it began, the first coast-to-coast automobile trip ended in New York City. The adventure cost Jackson $8,000 (including $3,000 for the car and $15 for Bud), but he had no regrets, not even the ticket he got when he returned home to Burlington, Vt.—for breaking the 6 mph speed limit.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.