Back to The Automobile in Chicago
Chicago Tribune, February 7, 1909
This is the ninth annual automobile show which Samuel A. Miles has promoted in Chicago. Eight of them have been under the auspices of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers, of which Mr. Miles is manager, and the first one was promoted by Miles before he got his present job.
New York is the pioneer in the show game; that is admitted but tyhe claim is made, and is well supported that Chicago’s is the national show and the largest held in the country. Claim is made also that Chicago was the first to inaugurate the system of uniform decorations of the booths, which idea has been extensively copied ever since. New York’s first show was given in Madison Square garden Nov. 3-10, 1900, under the auspices of the Automobile Club of America, while Miles staged his initial performance the week of March 23-30, 1901, in the Coliseum, which was all too large at that time for such an affair.
Chicago’s first peep at the automobile was had several years before this, however, old timers recalling that during the fall festival in 1898, a bicycle meet was given at Tattersalls’. At that time the Woods electric first made its appearance and the bicycle people conceived the idea of showing the people what an automobile looked like. So each evening during the week a section of the indoor track was removed and two electric rigs were run into the inclosure for the inspection of the public. Few had a chance to ride, though.
The first time that automobiles were placed formally on exhibition in Chicago was in January, 1899, when N. H. Van Sick!en promoted the the bicycle show in the Edson Keith building at Wabash avenue and Monroe street. Van Sicklen cleared a space on the third floor and there exhibited several rigs, all electrics, and the product of the Woods Motor Vehicle company, and the Fischer Equipment company. The Woods concern is the only one that has survived.
Many remember the outdoor show that was held at Washington park race track in the summer of 1899. While the snow was going on under the grandstand there were races run on the track. Among the exhibitors were the Woods company, the American Bicycle company, Baldwin Chain company, Buffalo Gasoline Motor company. Canda Bros. Auto-Quadricycle company, and Carse Bros. Most of these names are strange to the present generation of motorists.
Following this came Miles with his show in the Coliseum the week of March 23-30, 1901. Miles was up against it in that the weather at the time was of the real old-fashioned winter brand. People knew little about automobiles then and cared less, so the attendance was somewhat disappointing. Added to this the Harrison-Stewart mayoralty campaign was raging and the show was almost forgotten by the press.
There was plenty of room in the big building—too much if anything—and to help matters out some Miles built a tanbark track, ranging his exhibits on the outside. Demonstrations were given on the track and many a Chicagoan can date his first automobile ride back to that March week of 1901.
After that the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers, then in its infancy, took a hand in the Chicago show game, but it did not “hog” it, permitting the Chicago Automobile club and Mr. Miles to assist in the promotion of the show, which was held the week of March 1-8, 1902. This was a bigger show, there being thirty-six makes of cars on exhibition, represented by 113 machines of which forty-nine were shown by twenty-two makers of gasoline vehicles; seven were steam and seven electric.
At this show the American Automobile association, the national organization, came into being, it being formed by eight clubs, of which the Chicago Automobile club was one. F. C. Donald, now president of the Chicago Motor club, acted as temporary chairman. Later he was chosen first vice president, Winthrop E. Scvarrit being picked for the presidency.
The Chicago Automobile club continued the partnership with the N. A. A. M. and Miles in 1903 and the Coliseum event was larger than the one in New York, there being eighty-seven different makes of cars shown here as against seventy-nine in New York. From this it will be seen that the show of 1903 was almost as large as those of the present day so far as car makers are concerned.
In 1904 the partnership was dissolved, the N. A. A. M. taking things into its own hands but delegating Miles to run the affair. That year there were 155 exhibiters. The next year saw this almost doubled, there being 277 exhiniters on the list, seventy being car manufacturers. In 1906 there was a slight falling off, the nember being reduced to 260.
About this time the powers that be concluded that an earlier show date was desirable, but they held their show in February just the same. However it was decided that another exhibition should be held that same year, so the seventh annual show opened the last week in November, 1907. While it brought out the same big crowds, the makers were dissatisfied with the business done, so the old order was resumed. This caused 1908 to go without a show.