Story of the Week

Posted: 06.29.2009
Driving Miss Lizzie and Miss Lizzie Learning to Drive
Margery Krevsky
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Wealthy women represented a major market share of car owners in the early years of automobiles. They didnt drive themselves as they could afford a chauffeur. Also, gas engine vehicles were difficult to drive and the radical concept of driving schools was non-existent.

Women were enticed by the luxury, sophistication and power of the car. Marketing techniques of the era included advertising with Hermes, the Greek mythological god of commerce and speed (called Mercury by the Romans) who had sex appeal and was the mysterious car jockey with his entire heroic prowess. He was the siren.

Women did want to learn to drive but it was no easy task. In 1913 Ford created publicity photos showing gracious ladies driving cars. The gentleman pictured here was the husband, friend or chauffer commissioned to teach the lady of the house how to drive a Ford Model T. Photographed on Merrill Plaisance, a winding road around Detroits Palmer Park the shoot was all smiles as the driver learned the fine art of the clutch, break, gears and starter. But how bad was it at the beginning of the industryω

Driving was a daunting experience for mlady, writes Leon Mandel in his 448-page coffee table book, American Cars (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Publishers, 1982.)

The driver used both feet and hands, and some coordination between them was required. . . his right limbs he reserved for the far right pedal, a brake that worked on the transmission, and the middle pedal, reverse.

1913 Ford Model T publicity shot of a woman learning to drive. This photo was shot in Detroits Palmer Park. The city of Detroits 1st Ecology Fair took place in Palmer Park this past weekend.
Photo: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The left lever on the quadrant was the ignition control, a spark advance that determined the moment after the intake stroke when the plugs would fire. Once the thing was in motion, it required the use of the left foot and right hand only. . . The Ford took every ounce of your attention . . . for with its narrow rims and light weight, it would follow every corner, depression, crack and ridge on the surface, leaping about like a frog on fire.

If mlady sought not to leap about in a vehicle like a frog on fire, if her family could afford a Stutz Bearcat, a Duesenberg or Pierce Arrow, the chauffer would likely drive her everywhere. But then, a new problem emerged. Chauffeurs those handsome dudes, in uniform, the Mercury gods who drove the machines of millionaires, could muscle out the affection of fathers and husbands, according to Rudolph Anderson, author of the tome, The Story of the American Automobile. (Public Affairs Press, 1950)

The rich mans chauffeur . . . is so taciturn, so reckless, so skillful that the girl begins to admire him, writes Anderson, quoting Professor Emil Dietrich of Heidleberg, an early car culture expert. He is brief, daring, quick wooer, is the chauffeur, and he wins out in many cases. He is so mysteriously masterful, so masterfully defiant of the law that he becomes a picturesque, romantic figure to a girl satiated with the ordinary man.

To be sure, Andersons research suggested some high society thinkers recommended an anti-serum was needed to help women stand up against the love potions of Mercury man, the gentleman of power and speed.
The car itself is the seducer of both sexes “ its curved sheet metal, gleaming chrome and finish, touch of the interior leather and the smell of a new car, along with the thrill of an open road. Be still my heart!

Margery Krevwky is the author of Sirens of Chrome published by Momentum.
She is the CEO of Productions Plus an automotive supplier.
Maureen MacDonald, researcher

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