On The Road

08 07 alice ramsey 1On this day in 1909 Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman to drive coast to coast across the United States. Alice loved driving. When she got her first car, she managed to clock up 6,000 mile over the course of one summer, driving mostly on dirt roads near her home in Hackensack, New Jersey. When she entered a 200 mile endurance race, she came to the attention of a man representing motor manufacturer Maxwell-Briscoe. He proposed that she should take an all expenses paid road trip, courtesy of the company. It was to be a publicity stunt proving that a Maxwell automobile could take anyone, even a woman, right across America.

She took three companions with her, her two older sisters-in-law, Nettie Powell and Margaret Atwood and also a sixteen year old girl called Hermine Jahns. Alice herself was just twenty two. Neither of the other three could drive.

Their journey began at Hell’s Gate, Manhattan, New York on June 9th. It would be a 3,800 mile (5,767 kilometres) drive that would take them fifty-nine days. It was not an easy trip. Only 152 miles (244 kilometres) of their route were paved. They navigated using a set of maps published by the American Automobile Association. This too, was not straightforward. In a place where they were supposed to look out for a yellow house and barn, then turn left, they became hopelessly confused. The owner who didn’t approve of cars had, in an act of rebellion, painted it green. Sometimes the roads were so worn out that they had to pick their route by following the telegraph wires, hoping that the poles with most wires would lead them to the nearest town.

08 07 alice ramsey 2The car itself caused difficulty. Alice however, was determined. She had to change tyres eleven times and the lack of tread on them made muddy tracks a real challenge. On one occasion they had to be towed by a horse. She also had to clean the spark plugs and carburettor and fix a broken brake pedal. Progress was mostly very slow but on the Cleveland Highway they achieved their top speed of forty-two miles an hour.

They arrived at Golden Gate, San Francisco on August 7th. Maxwell-Briscoe claimed it proved that the Maxwell DA was a car for a lady to drive. Clearly though it was the lady, rather that the car that made the trip a success.


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