Story of the Week

Posted: 10.28.2014
Two Great Women of Automotive History
By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of The National Automotive History Collection

I wanted to take the time to write a feature about two great women who, in my opinion, should be remembered not only for their contributions but also for the successful leadership roles each of them played in supporting our auto heritage. It is most appropriate at this time to offer kind words in remembrance of both these women, Ms. Helen Earley (September 4, 1917- January 8, 2005) and Ms. Beverly Rae Kimes (August 13, 1939- May12, 2008).



To start, I was first introduced to Ms. Beverly Rae Kimes when I served as a board member on the National Automotive History Collection in Detroit, MI. I was very impressed with her dedication and knowledge for automotive history and how she was able to impact the automotive community. At the beginning of her career, she wrote “The Standard Catalog Of American Cars 1805-1942” along with Mr. Henry Austin Clark Jr. This book provides model descriptions, production figures and prices of just about every automobile that was built in the United States. The first publication was available to the public in 1985. This reference manual was published by Krause Publications and shared great facts about automotive history.



Later, Ms. Kimes became the first employee hired at Automobile Quarterly Publications. The main qualification for this job was having a driver’s license. However, with her great knowledge for automobiles, she quickly began to write and edit more than 20 books and hundreds of automotive articles. She won almost every award in automotive journalism. The Antique Automobile Club of America called her “One of the greatest automotive writers of our time”. Ms. Kimes once said “The automobile re-made America in its image and gave a kind of freedom which the railroads never could.” Ms. Kimes also provided commentary at the Concours d' Elegance of the eastern United States.

Another book that is often used for a great reference tool is “Packard, a History of the Motor Car and the Company”. Ms. Kimes worked as the Editor for this extraordinary source of Packard information which is also a key piece in my reference library collection. During her career, Ms. Kimes had always referred to herself as a very “low-tech” person because her primary concern was creating fine works of classical writing material. A typewriter, along with a copy machine and telephone were the necessary tools that made her job complete. Today, Ms. Kimes is greatly missed by many within the automotive community and she will always be remembered as the first lady of automotive history.


Ms. Helen Jones Earley was a renowned scholar, historian, and archivist in addition to contributing a great deal of knowledge to the automotive community. I was introduced to Ms. Earley when I was student at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan many years ago. At the time, I was working on an Oldsmobile history project. I will never forget the kind words she spoke along with the much needed material she sent me to complete the project. Not only was she enthusiastic about the project, but she also wanted to see the completed assignment. Ms. Earley was an expert on Oldsmobile's history. During her career, Ms. Earley and another retiree helped established the Oldsmobile History Center. She also co-authored two great books on Oldsmobile’s history which included the popular “Setting the Pace: Oldsmobile's First 100 Years” written by Helen Jones Earley and James R. Walkinshaw. Another book was “Oldsmobile: A War Years Pictorial”.




Helen Earley, who also had a twin sister, is considered the First Lady of Oldsmobile. Her journey began when she took a job as a stenographer in machine procurement with the Oldsmobile Division in 1942. After the war, Ms. Earley moved into the sales department creating and accomplishing many great assignments. In 1960, she transferred to the public relations department and later became the Executive Secretary to the Director of Public Relations in 1972. Throughout the years, Ms. Earley became Oldsmobile's resident historian. Ms. Earley once said, “This was a marvelous assignment and I really enjoyed helping others in their quest for information”. She was also one of the founding members of the task force to help and create the R.E Olds Transportation Museum. In addition to that, she served as a board member for the National Automotive History Collection, the Library and Research Center for the Antique Automobile Club of America, and was a member of the Society Of Automotive Historians. Ms. Earley was the recipient of the prestigious James J. Bradley award from the Society of Automotive Historians.

This was a story about how two remarkable women created many new roads that helped drive Automotive History into our history books and into our future. For this, they should always be remembered.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Earley Jones & Walkinshaw R. James. “Setting the Pace Oldsmobile First 100 Years”. 1996. Courter Paul. R. E Olds Transportation Museum Quarterly Review Spring 2000. Helen Earley. “Expert on Oldsmobile's History” Detroit Free press 1/11/05. Foster Kit. “Beverly Rae Kimes, First Lady Of Automotive”. May 21, 2008. Jenny King. “Women Are a Driving Force In Auto History”. Detroit News 3/25/92.)

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