The Altruistic Automobile
Written by Matthew Hocker
In the literary world, Booth’s 2,250 mile trip of 1905 was immortalized in W. P. Ryan’s 85-page book, The Romance of a Motor Mission. Although published by the Salvation Army in 1906, the author was himself an independent journalist for the then-widely circulated Daily Chronicle. Looking for a great story, Ryan accompanied the fleet’s tour with an outsider’s perspective, which he claimed Salvation Army leaders openly welcomed and appreciated.
While Booth focused on preaching the need to help the “less fortunate,” there was no mistaking the added power of his horseless carriage. After all, this was a time when few could afford to travel, let alone own a car. According to Ryan, “…because [Booth] traveled as he taught, because he was a traveler full of the fire and poetry of travel, he moved men more, he fascinated imaginations.” One little boy was so excited that he leapt from his bath and ran to the door of his home “covered in soap” to salute the passing motorcade.
Surprisingly, very little information exists regarding the cars used in the Salvation Army’s motor missions. Even in Ryan’s book, Booth’s vehicle is simply referred to in capital letters as the “White Car,” suggesting it may have been manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Since the company had a strong reputation for its cars at the time, not to mention a branch office in London, it’s entirely possible that Booth may have traveled in a White Steamer at some point. However, while the car pictured in the book bears some resemblance to a White, it’s not.
As Booth was traditionally chauffeured in a car painted white, Ryan may have simply been referring to the car’s appearance. According to the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, an English newspaper article mentioned that the General utilized a white 60hp Darracq. Furthermore, period issues of the Salvation Army’s publication, The War Cry, frequently referred to this Darracq as “the Big White Car” and “the Big White Car with the Red Wheels.”
While such details of General Booth’s motor missions have been lost to history, there’s no denying their cultural impact. Like Santa and his sleigh, Booth and his car were considered just as magical, lifting the Spirits of many a British Citizen encountering hard times. For those wanting to learn more about the 1905 tour, stop by the Library and check out The Romance of a Motor Mission. It’s just one of our collection’s more than 60 different travel narratives, published as far back as 1887.
Note: Special thanks to The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre for providing additional information on the cars used in the motor missions.