Written by Chris Ritter
A picture of a Tiffany Transcontinental Medal awarded by MoToR magazine in 1915 and 1916 recently arrived at the library and got us thinking about transcontinental trips in the early 1900s. A transcontinental trek during the early years of motoring was considered an amazing feat and received an incredible amount of press. Today when we look outside and see miles and miles of wide, flat macadam it is hard to appreciate just how incredible it was for unreliable machines to journey through deserts and through mountains without roads, reliable maps or even stores to replenish gasoline and other supplies.
One of the first attempts was made by J.D. Davis and his wife in 1899, but their New York to San Francisco adventure stalled just west of Ohio. The first successful crossing was completed by Dr. H.N. Jackson and S.K. Crocker on July 17, 1903. Their trip lasted 64 days and earned their Winton a spot in history and the Smithsonian Institute.
In 1909, Alice Ramsey broke the gender barrier and turned many heads when she (accompanied by three other women) became the first woman to drive from New York to San Francisco in her Maxwell, and thousands more would bisect the continent in races and personal adventures during the first 15 years of the 1900s. By 1915 MoToR estimated that more than 3,000 transcontinental trips were made and Motor Age described transcontinental trips as “a commonplace achievement that receives only passing mention.” While transcontinental trips were occurring with more frequency in 1915 than they were in 1903, it is safe to assume that you or I could still hardly imagine making the trip even with the best vehicle from the era.
To entice the average motorist to consider such a trip, the June 1915 issue of MoToR magazine announced “MoToR Medals for the Tourists: Silver Trophy offered each owner driving from east of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast this year.” The silver trophy was a Tiffany medal inscribed with the driver’s name, vehicle and date. Gold medals were also offered to the motorist that wrote the beset story and a silver cup was awarded to the motorist that provided the best photograph.
Taking part in this contest was simple. Entrants notified MoToR of their intent to participate; they then registered in Chicago, New York, Boston or Atlanta and finally checked in at either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Aside from the Tiffany medal, MoToR encouraged participation in the cross-country tour because Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks were nwly opened to motorists. The treks also offered the opportunity to “See American First” while the “European war…is forcing thousands and thousands of Americans to stay on this side of the Atlantic.”
The contest was quite successful in 1915, with 79 medals being awarded that year. The opportunity was extended again in 196 and by August of that year eight medals were awarded with 28 contestants still making the journey.
To learn more about the MoToR contest, the Tiffany medals that were awarded, or any of the early transcontinental trips, visit or contact the AACA Library. In addition to more than 40,000 periodicals that reported these events, we also have dozens of early guidebooks, maps and photographs that will give you an idea just how hard it was to cross the continent in an automobile in 1903 or even 1915.