There's No Place Like NoMad

June 5, 2013

NoMad History Fun: NoMad or Bust! First Cross-Country Automobile Trip

horatio nelson jackson on the first cross-country automobile trip

On July 16, 1903, Horatio Nelson Jackson pulled up in front of the Holland House on the southwest corner of 30th and Fifth Avenue (in what is now known as the NoMad neighborhood) completing the first ever cross-country automobile trip, 63 days after it began in San Francisco.

63 days? Today you can do it in five days if need be. However, in the early days of the automobile one was faced with repairs every few miles and roads weren’t what they are today. In fact, back then people were skeptical about the future of the automobile, some arguing it would never replace the horse. Jackson, a young man from Vermont traveling through San Francisco became engaged in a heated debate on the subject and entered a $50 bet that he could cross the country by car in less than 90 days.

Thanks to the many letters Jackson wrote to his wife, he left behind a detailed account of his journey. He faced dirt roads, mountains, mud, breakdowns and mishaps along the way. Gas stations didn’t exist, so Jackson had to buy fuel from general stores that carried it for farm equipment. His 1903 Winton touring car with 2-cylinders only held about 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of fuel, so he packed extra. Without reliable road signs, he had to trust local advice and made several wrong turns along the way. Boulders often blocked the road, and occasionally the car would get stuck in deep streams or mud, requiring Jackson and Crocker, a 22 year old engineer who accompanied him, to pull it out with the block and tackle.

The trip was arduous and costly. His bet ended up costing him $8,000 — and according to his granddaughters, he never bothered to collect his $50 prize.