Fact Friday 95 – The Auto Invades Pt. 1

Fact Friday 95 – The Auto Invades Pt. 1

Happy Friday everyone!


Early car travel around 1900 was slow and difficult, but folks braved mud to explore the countryside and mountains where roads were mere trails. State auto sales soared from 2,400 in 1910 to 150,000 in 1921. 


When the first automobile chugged around a Charlotte corner in 1900, Osmond Barringer drove it, a steam Locomobile. Barringer was the city’s first car dealer. He sold a second to Dr. C.G. G McManaway to use for his practice. Next, he purchased an Oldsmobile Runabout. Barringer loved to be first. He experimented with x-rays in a Davidson College lab before x-ray photographs were made elsewhere. Later, the use of x-ray by Dr. H.L. Smith of Davidson College led to saving a little girl’s life. A lost thimble was located and cut from her throat by Dr. C.A. Misenheimer, assisted by Dr. John R. Erwin and Dr. Robert L. Gibbon. This is said to have been the first operation performed in the South with the use of x-rays.


Steam Locomobile
Oldsmobile Runabout
Barringer rode a bike from Canada to Charlotte, drove a Hudson speedster up the steps of the Southern Manufacturers Club and took his White Steamer from Charlotte to Blowing Rock (a popular new resort in North Carolina) in 1908. People said it could not be done. But Barringer did it with 3 intrepid Charlotte friends, rope, block and tackle, chains, shovel and 6 five-gallon cans of extra gas. Driving rugged macadam roads, they crossed the Catawba on a fairy and followed mountain trails that had never seen an auto. When he drove out onto the Blowing Rock, he said he felt like Hannibal crossing the Alps. The photographed feat was Blowing Rock’s most popular postcard, inspiring others in the summer to see the cool relief of forest breezes in daring mountain excursions. Before air conditioning, they fled to Little Switzerland, Chimney Rock, Linville, Black Mountain, Asheville’s Grove Park Inn and Blowing Rock’s Mayview Manor and Green Park Inn, undeterred by frequent flat tires on roads that were little more than trails.


Hudson Speedster

White Steamer

Barringer operated the Charlotte Speedway on Old Pineville Road and drove a Packard roadster until the Depression. When he lost his investments, he bred parakeets, minnows and worms and chauffeured four visiting presidents in Charlotte. He gave away Gen. Rufus Barringer’s land for Revolution Park and Barringer School, as well as his own grape jelly and dandelion wine. Columnist “Red Buck” Bryant described Barringer’s love affair with the automobile: “He delighted in its speed, novelty, and the fear it gave the population.”


Packard Roadster


At first, automobiles were cautiously received. People who had for generations trusted travel to horses, trains, bicycles and unpredictable mules became fascinated by the auto. Some bought them almost as a toy initially. But soon, the push for better roads began. By 1925, Cramerton Mill’s brochure noted:


Henry Ford is certainly emancipating the average small-town worker. Even the most casual observer has noticed the amazing number of automobiles of all vintages in mill communities. The mills generally close down on Saturday forenoons and by early afternoon, large numbers of workers are out for the weekends even as their former envied society neighbors.


Until next week!




Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!


Information taken from:


Charlotte North Carolina: A Brief History, Mary Kratt, 2009



“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass




Back to blog