Back to The Automobile in Chicago
Motor Age, February 9, 1905
CHICAGO, Ill., Feb. 4—
Cosmopolitan Chicago wended its way through dingy streets and passed beneath a canopy into the coliseum to night, there to view the opening of the greatest automobile show ever held in the west.
Cosmopolitan Chicago wandered through aisles and gazed upon the latest creations of the industry. There was the rustle of silks, the glint of gold and the luster of dia monds; the soft sable showed on the wraps of the ladies; there was the lustrous sheen of satin on the dress coats of their companions. Elbow to elbow they stood with the man with his coat collar turned up, with the man whose plaid muffler concealed a rural collar, with the enthusiast whose dress was a matter of little consequence to him so long as he had the opportunity of viewing the newest carbureter, the most recent development in transmission gears or other features that appealed to his mechanical frame of mind.
Chicago cares little for the social status so long as the manufacturers and exhibitors deliver the goods. Chicago wants to peer into the mechanism of each machine. It goes to the automobile show in a very practical frame of mind. It gazes at the chassis intently and passes the finished car with an admiring but little more than a cursory glance. Its feminine contingent may rhapsodize over the spacious back seat of the canopied car of luxurious appointment and may seat itself on such a cushion and teeter with blissful contentment, but the masculine section is poking its nose around in the remote parts of the machinery and reminding femininity to “Come along.”
Thus does Chicago differ from New York, where Society—spelt with a capital if it please you—gazes through lorgnettes at the exhibited cars, rustles its silks ostentatiously and seldom gets nearer to the motive power of the machine than the leather cushioned seats. Chicago is hard headed. It is the automobile sales center of the west. The key note “business” rings in its every action and characterizes its shows.
Still it was a notable fact that at the opening of the Chicago automobile show tonight—the fourth annual show to be given in this city by the N. A. A. M.—Chicago more nearly approached Madison Square garden than ever before. There was more silk, more sable, more expansive and immaculate white shirt fronts framed by the genteel black of evening dress, and more diamonds. The automobile show at the coliseum was more of a society event than in previous years. That this fact had been presaged seemed to be indicated by the canopy which the management had so thoughtfully provided to protect those of the “Four Hundred” and of its contingent circles from too close acquaintance ship with the weather as they passed from their carriages or street cars into the big building.
The lofty-roofed coliseum was surely jammed with spectators. The aisles were blocked with those who wandered from exhibit to exhibit. Each thing of interest drew a knot of visitors about it as the demonstrator explained its virtues. Men stopped to examine the various displays. Women clambered into the large cars and posed. Others, but not so many, roamed from one point to another, circumnavigated the building by traversing the galleries, giving each exhibit a cursory inspection. In point of decoration the build ing surpassed all settings given the shows heretofore. Instead of festooned bunting, such as concealed the ceiling a year ago, Hags of all nations hung from the rafters. And this conception was an appropriate one, for among the many flags the stars and stripes were by far the most predominant, just as the American cars ruled the show. In the hundreds of vehicles exhibited barely three foreign manufacturing concerns were represented.
For Chicago is an all-America town from an automobile standpoint. Occasionally a foreign concern creeps in and sells a car. There are a few of them on the streets, driven by Chicagoans who like the European names and who pattern after Gotham in their preferences. But for the most part Chicago and the territory it sells to wants th-1 goods and doesn’t care whether the automobile is called the Jones or the De Balzac-Tolstoi-Emperor Wilhelm so long as it works and works right. It buys automobiles in automobile row as it buys wheat on the board of trade—with business reasoning or a good bluff at it.
The show was not in apple pie order when it opened tonight. All spaces were occupied and nearly all exhibits were on the spot, but they were not fully arranged. Only about 25 par cent of the exhibitors had actually finished placing their displays. The ground floor was a litter of machines and people, but nearly all of the exhibits here—at least a majority of them—occupied large spaces and were arranged with a view toward making good first impressions, some of them be ing complete and others temporarily arranged, awaiting leisure time to complete their arrangement and embellishment.
The gallery and the gallery annex were crowded with exhibits by manufacturers of parts. Every thing from a monkeywrench to a motorcycle was shown in the many exhibition stands. Every foot of available space was utilized and the exhibitors were well pleased for the most part with the attention given their displays by the surging crowd of visitors. Only in the spacious annex on the gallery floor was there a kick.
“This is a great place for an exhibit,” said one of the show men with an irate gesture. “We’ll get a fine crowd in these diggings. If we get the people in here we will be lucky.” But the man who was selling the electric necktie pins was drawing a crowd and had no kick coming.
In size the Chicago show is far ahead of pievious exhibitions. Only the amount of space available limits the number of exhibits. Were it possible to utilize the basement or the roof, there is little question that exhibits would be forthcoming to fill the ground is laid open. At the last moment the management was compelled to make arrangements for additional space in the galleries. Exhibits left vacant in the diagram. Some twenty-five applicants for space could not be accommo dated.
For the first time in the years that auto mobile shows have been held in Chicago the gallery annex is in use. Last year only the main floor annex was used and there was none too much room for the exhibitors. It was this gallery annex that was productive of the kicks mentioned, but the tone changed later in the evening when the ground floor crowd struck the new addition in a bunch.
Electric signs of all sizes and colors gleamed from every viewpoint. There were signs that stretched from one aisle to another, glowing in two or three different colors of lights. A green signal directed the visitors to one display, a red or a blue to another. At one hand there was the buzz of an electric-driven motor or gear. On the other side a monologue man attracted attention with explanations of the peculiar vir tues and advantages of the “one and only,” the unparalleled achievement of the company which furnishes his bread and butter.
All around the gallery there are curiosities of all descriptions from the standpoint of the casual visitor. He gazes with deep interest as the man behind the machine pokes holes through card board with electricity and he stops to admire the tire attaching and detaching process as it is demonstrated at another space. A peculiar arrangement of steel tubing sections into an elaborate combination of geometrical designs attracts his attention here, while a motor cycle of exceptional beauty absorbs his interest there.
In all respects the show is a real one, better than last year, as good as New York. While it has an entirely different tone from want of foreign displays, it lacks nothing, and to the American, and especially to the Chicagoan, it is surely of much greater interest than ‘« salon des importateurs, and possibly than Madison Square garden. The American product is of interest to the American, and the American is loyal. So is his wife or his girl. The exhibitors are well pleased. Manager Miles wears a wreath of smiles and everybody agrees that the first night was a sue success, even to the man whose exhibit was delayed in transit. Exhibitors who had just come from the New York show were not wearing the look of blasé showmen. Things are different in Chicago. The first whiff of the Chicago snow presaged the usual week of varied experiences. Prosperity was the keynote opening night. Not only was there a spirit indicative of what had already been accomplished, but there was a confidence on the part of the exhibitors that the week would prove unusually profitable.
The show was full of human interest, as is everything else in good old windy, snowy, frozen Chicago.
Peculiar echoes fell upon the ears of listeners, but characteristic none the less.
Strolling majestically down the main aisle, head in the air, conscious of her own beauty and that of the gown she wears, comes one of those creatures whose neatly gloved hand has frequently felt the pulsations of a speedy car’s mechanism beneath the steering wheel. Her conversation is mostly limited to monosyllables. “Yes” or “No” she answers to the questions put to her. Her eyebrows raise slightly as a new feature of some one of the many magnificent cars is pointed out to her. Occasionally she says “Ah” or “Indeed.” She does not go into raptures. That is for the motor novices. But secretly she decides that the next car she buys—or that her husband buys—will be patterned after—”well, that one there in the corner with the lazy-looking leather seat.”
Now comes a group of chattering enthusiasts, headed by the man with the white ascot and fancy vest, who knows all there is to be known about automobiles, and who is equipped to give pointers on any subject that may arise in connection with the entire show or any department thereof. The group strolls slowly past the displays. Occasionally a recruit is added to its ranks. “Oh, Mr. ———————”, ” she says, “I am so-o-o glad I met you. It will be so-o-o interesting to have you explain things to me. And I am just dying to know about that perfectly lovely red automobile over there. And isn’t that chocolate colored one a funny thing? The show must be awfully interesting to a man who know-s as much about automobiles as you do, Mr. ———————”
The man with the white ascot swells up and begins to explain things. “Here’s the Green Dragon that Barney Oldfield broke the records on,” he says, and his hearers exclaim, “Indeed.” “Can it be possible?” “Is that Barney?” “Isn’t he noble looking?”
“Oh, yes,” he returns in the matter of fact tone of one who had witnessed all the feats he speaks about. Why not; he had read the sign on the machine. They pass on and are lost in the crowd.
Here are some couches of world’s fair in heritance. They are havens of rest for more than one weary woman. Traversing the entire floor of the coliseum is a tiresome task, despite interest in the things to be seen, and an occa sional rest is appreciated. As women rest thev exchange views regarding the show. The women do most of the talking, in fact. The men are busy bustling from one place to an other absorbing ideas. The views exchanged by the women are frequently somewhat vague. The big show is a difficult thing to assimilate quickly and it is only the occasional impression that finds expression.
“I like that Columbia victoria with the lovely spacious back seat,” says one of the women.
“Yes,” returns the other,” but did you see that Rambler with the—what did he call it—limousine body? That is what I wait.”
“Oh, that is a beautiful car. But I like those Cape Cod tops best. I’d rather have one of those A. L. A. M. cars, anyway. I understand they have a better clutch, what ever that is.”
And thus they ramble in their conversation from one topic to another, reviewing the different displays that they have given attention. There are knocks and boosts, all delivered freely without the prejudice or bias that may, and. of course, may not infest the bosom of the salesman or exhibit manager.
For, as every one knows—or as most people know—an automobile show is the knocker’s dub in effigy. Here is where you get the choicest brand of a knock. You find it wrapped up in tissue paper and tied with a blue ribbon. Sometimes it is passed out en tirely unconsciously, entirely unintentionally. But where are you to find so excellent an opportunity for rivals to attempt refutation of each other’s claims as at an automobile show? And where can you find the manufacturer’s agent, demonstrator or salesman whose tongue is untutored to the criticism of his rival.
And all of this, with a great deal more, goes to make up the great Chicago automn bile show.
Yes, Chicago may be dirty and dingy and grimy. Perhaps its cobble stones do not in cite the admiration of visitors, especially if the visitors are owners and drivers of cars. Perhaps its Wabash avenue does not appeal to the aesthetic tastes of Gotham ‘s elite used to Broadway, but Chicago does things, and she does them right. She gives you automo biles and automobile society through a kaleido scope presenting a wholly cosmopolitan picture.
The Chicago show this year will make good. It made good opening night.
…prevent them from making sales by the char acter of the work they do. It is a bully dem onstration, the best demonstration any auto mobile show of this country has enjoyed, be cause it not only demonstrates the interest the western public has in automobiles, but it demonstrates what ordinary automobiles can do under extraordinary conditions.
It is noticeable also that morning and afternoon attendance is much greater than last year, and that since Monday night, when the attendance was substantially the same as opening night, it has grown steadily and prom ises for Thursday, the always good day of a Chicago show, a jam such as the Chicago Coliseum has seldom seen through the great yellow orbs that crown its magnificent arches and keep wonderful tab on all the various enter tainment and commercial stunts that ars enacted out below.
It is too early to say positively just what will be the increase over the sales of last year, but it is common talk around the coli seum that unless there is a slump toward the latter part of the week, Madieon Square gar den stands in danger of the greatest run it ever had for its money in this particular. This statement applies both to the sales made to retail buyers and to agents, for while it hr.s been generally conceded that New York, on account of being first in the field each season should rightly claim most of the agency busi ness, Chicago is catching up wonderfully in this particular just now.
In the last year agencies, garages and re pair shops and liveries have opened in towns which are so new to the game that the man who could pronounce chauffeur is the automobile authority of the neighborhood. Soon there will be no town of a decent size in the broad west which will not have its automo bile establishment. This trade is pouring into the Chicago show daily. Seventy-five per cent probably of the sales that are being made are to agents of the western territory. There is no longer any slight chance by which a “knocker” could call the Chicago exhibition a local show. It sells cars to Chieagoans just as the Madison Square garden show sells to Manhattans, but the agency trade is so greatly increased that any man who doubts the state ments made above to the effect that the west has opened its heart and pocketbook to automobiling is blind to conditions. Ask an ex hibitor if the show feels like the real thing or an imitation, and the forcefulness of his indignant response might not go through the mails.
Tomorrow tells the story of the show, not in theory and conjecture and logically drawn conclusions from obvious premises, but in cold, hard facts, stated in cold, hard dollars and cents. The out-of-town contingency will be a tangible factor tomorrow. The man in the west does not ride 100 or 200 miles to rush into an exhibition, salute the first exhibitor he sees, and say good bye. Those who come from out of town to the Chicago coliseum come to study the goods is played.
A thousand American flags have their star eyes upon the show and they have no cause not to be proud of the sight that greets them. The show is surely an exceptional triumph of the west, and just as the almost unanimous majority of American automobiles on the coliseum floor is proud of its strength fo also may the stars and stripes be the proud est of the hundred and one national flags that decorate the roof.
The Inter Ocean, February 5, 1905
1911 Sanborn Map