A LOOK INTO THE PAST
NEW ALICE RAMSEY EXHIBIT
Gilmore Car Museum honors Alice Ramsey, the first women to drive
cross-country in an automobile.
Hickory Corners, MI
One of the newest exhibits at the Gilmore Car Museum, in Hickory Corners,
MI., honors the role Alice Ramsey had in automotive history as the first
woman to drive across the country. From the time the automobile first
appeared in the United States in the late 1890s, several only dreamt of
making a transcontinental trip in the “new fangled contraption.” With less
than 150 miles of paved roads in the entire nation-most of which were
located in the east-and the horse and buggy being the norm of
transportation, a cross country trip didn’t seem like a realistic endeavor.
That was, until 1903 when Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, on a whim and a
fifty-dollar bet, started his journey across the Untied States. Departing
San Francisco in a 20 horsepower Winton Touring car, Jackson endured
unpredictable weather, getting lost, flat tires, and non-existent roads.
Sixty-three days later, he arrived in New York City, making Jackson the
first person to successfully drive an automobile across the country.
In 1909, the Maxwell Motor Company challenged 22-year old Alice Ramsey, a
housewife and mother from Hackensack, NJ., to repeat Jackson’s record
breaking trip in an effort to persuade more American women to take up
driving. Alice accepted the challenge and on June 9th, 1909, she and three
woman companions-none of whom drove-left New York in a Maxwell touring car
and headed for San Francisco.
Up until this time, only two-dozen automobiles-all of which had been driven
by men-had successfully made the drive across the nation since Jackson’s
infamous 1903 trip. At that time, women were discouraged from driving,
suggesting that simply riding in a car was dangerous for them. Some doctors
actually warned of “Automobile Face,” which was said to cause a perpetually
opened mouth, resulting in sinus trouble. Ramsey was determined to prove
them wrong. Fifty-nine days and 3,800 miles later, she and her team arrived
in San Francisco, making Alice the first woman to drive across the United
The Gilmore Car Museum is celebrating this historic event with its newest
exhibit, which recreates a scene from an original 1909 photo offering a
glimpse into the driving conditions and hardships that early automotive
pioneers faced. The life-sized diorama depicts Alice Ramsey and her
traveling companions as they dealt with a broken axle on their 1909 Maxwell.
Museum Advisory Committee member and author of “The Kalamazoo Automobilist,”
David Lyon and his wife, Jane, first presented the concept for the exhibit
last year and have worked tirelessly to see it come to completion. This new
exhibit, funded in part by Kalamazoo Auto Restorers Club, MotorCities
National Heritage Area, and AAA of Michigan, provides a unique look at
women’s role in automotive history. Alice Ramsey’s courage and determination
certainly inspired countless women, and for that, she holds the honor as the
first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
“In Utah we hit a prairie dog hole in the road with such force that a tie
bolt came out of the tie rod connecting the front wheels. Down went the
front end, wheels spread-eagled, breaking the spring seat over the front
axle. We had a pilot car with us and driver Frank Irving went back to Orr’s
ranch where they had a forge and we were able to make temporary repairs. In
spite of everything, we finally made it across Nevada arriving near midnight
at the Riverside Hotel in Reno.” Alice Ramsey 1909
The Gilmore Car Museum opens for its 40th season on May 1 and is open daily
from of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm and until 6 pm on weekends, through the end of
October. Located in the heart of west Michigan, the museum is midway between
Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Battle Creek, on M-43 and Hickory Road.
To learn more about the Gilmore Car Museum visit: www.GilmoreCarMuseum.org
or phone 269-671-5089.