Hand Book of Automobiles, 1904-1929
Written by Chris Ritter
Unless you lived in a large city during the early 1900s, there probably weren’t too many choices of automobile dealers in your hometown. If you happened to be in the market for a motorcar, you could simply purchase a car from the lone, or one of a very few, local dealers or do a little research to learn about other manufacturers. The best tool at the time for this sort of research was the Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles.
The Hand Book of Gasoline Automobiles was first published in 1904. From this early date through 1913, it contained very detailed specifications on cars that were manufactured by members of the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), an organization that honored the Selden Patent and paid royalties on each vehicle sold to George Selden.
The 1904 edition only included passenger vehicles. A typical entry consumed one page and described the model, body style and construction, wheelbase, engine specifications, transmission, paint options (occasionally) and technical specifications. Price was also listed, so a prospective buyer could do all of his research and comparisons in the comfort home.
Of course, there was one extremely popular automobile manufacturer that was not listed in the Handbook throughout its run and that was Ford. Henry Ford never honored the Selden Patent and fought a multi-year legal battle that he initially lost in 1909. That decision went on to an appeals court in 1911 that overturned the 1909 ruling because the Selden Patent was based on a two-cycle engine where Ford (and most other manufacturers) used a four-cycle engine.
The court ruling that nullified the Selden Patent effectively nullified the ALAM’s purpose, but the Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles lived on when the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce (NACC) was formed in 1914. NACC went on to publish the Handbook through 1925, organized national automobile shows in New York and Chicago, and took an interest in legislation that affected the automotive industry in general.
By the end of its run in 1929, the Hand Book evolved to include sections on gasoline passenger vehicles, taxicabs, buses and electric vehicles. The one-page listings for each car were similar in design and details as they were in the first year’s publication.
Today these Hand Books are tremendously valuable to anyone interested in technical information. They are also great resources for library staff when attempting to identify cars in “mystery” photos sent in to the library. The library has a complete set of Hand Books, and we encourage you to take a good look at them the next time you visit us in Hershey.
Looking for an old photo?
In 2012 the library received more than 10,000 negatives from the collection of Ken Stauffer. Mr. Stauffer was AACA President in 1974 and was also a photographer for Antique Automobile during the 1970s and early 1980s. The negatives that we received include pictures that appeared in Antique Automobile, but there are many others that never made it into print. If you are ever flipping through back issues of our magazine and see something you like, contact the library because we may have a negative and can get a photo reproduced for you. The acquisition of this negative collection will preserve valuable club history and we are thankful that Mr. Stauffer donated them to the AACA Library.