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“Going Bubbling” Salt Lake City's first automobile

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“I am surprised not to see automobiles in Salt Lake” remarked N. B. Taylor, a resident of Denver, Colorado, on business to Salt Lake City in January 1900. “They are all the rage in the East, and Denver will soon be full of them,” he continued. Little did Mr. Taylor know but he was prophesizing not only Denver’s future, but Salt Lake City’s as well.

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The personal automobile was introduced to Salt Lake by the Silver Brothers in May 1900 – John A. Silver and Hyrum A. Silver, president and vice president (respectively) of the Silver Brothers’ Iron Works of Salt Lake City.

The Silver brothers had earned their fortune thanks largely to their father, William John Silver, who founded the Silver Iron Works in the early 1860s. In 1886, his sons took over the family business and formed the Silver Brothers’ Iron Works, the largest iron, steel and brass foundry in the Salt Lake area. One indication of the Silver Brothers’ prominence was the highly prestigious commission in the 1880s to provide the twelve brass oxen for the baptistry of the Salt Lake Temple; and, by 1902 the company was employing more than 100 people and supplying nearly all of the steel and iron used in the Intermountain region.

Though not as prominent or wealthy as other Salt Lake City gentlemen, the Silver brothers were the first to introduce the automobile to Salt Lake City. They each purchased their brand new 1900 Locomobile automobile in May of 1900 for $860 each (adjusted for inflation, $860 equates to about $24,000 in 2014 dollars). The Deseret News noted that the high cost of such a machine is what will limit its further introduction to Salt Lake; however, as the Deseret News also noted, once paid for, the operation expense of such a machine is only 23 cents a gallon of gasoline (about $6.40 a gallon, adjusted for inflation) which will run the machine for 3 hours.

The Silver brothers owned Locomobiles, a machine powered by gasoline and steam; not electricity as other early automobiles of the day. The Locomobile Company of America was founded in 1899 and built over 4,000 machines between 1899 and 1902. In 1901, Locomobile offered seven body styles at prices between $600 and $1,400. Most Locomobiles had simple twin-cylinder; typical of the product was the 1904 Runabout, which seated two passengers and sold for $750.

On May 15 1900, the Deseret News described the Silver brothers machines in great detail: “When you want a ride you fill your oil tank and boiler and in a few minutes you have steam up, the time employed in these preliminary duties having occupies much less time than hitching of a horse to a buggy….”

“A look at one of the vehicles reveals a compact affair of four pneumatic-tired wheels and steel-tube frame, with a well finished, buggy-like body. All that can be seen of the machinery is the engine shaft, sprocket wheels and chain. When the machine is opened up there is revealed link eccentrics for reverse movement. The cylinders are three-inch and give five-horse power under the ordinary boiler pressure of 150 pounds. This can be increased to 225 if needed. The engine occupies a place in the middle of the automobile and is therefore saved from jarring. On the rear axil—the one which imparts propulsion—is a compensating gear which causes the outside wheel to revolve faster than the inside on in rounding a curve, while each is still doing its share of the traction work. This arrangement saves power and also makes steering easier. The front axle is rigid to the frame and does not turn, as does the from axle of a buggy upon a “king-pin” in the center, but has a joint just inside of the hub of each wheel, both being moved simultaneously by the steering gear, the arrangement saving jarring of the steering hand and arm. The machine weighs when fully loaded for operation, about 700 pounds; the tires are about one-half inch thick and capable of withstanding a great strain. There are water gages and all safety appliances, and the automobile is certainly about as pleasant a thing to ride in as one could well wish. The writer took a ride with Mr. Hyrum Silver, going down on the drive and about town, and the pleasure was certainly such as to make pardonable a desire for many repetitions.”

Although not the first automobile to grace the streets of Salt Lake City, the Silver brothers were the first to actually own an automobile in Salt Lake. In all likelihood, the first car to arrive in Salt Lake was written about in a nationally syndicated newspaper article by Louise Hitchcock Davis who recounts her and her husband John’s cross country journey in 1899. Other showcases of the early automobile included the American Automobile Advertising Co. overland show and various racing expose of the early 1900s.

Additionally, the first automobile to be constructed in Utah was by Lehi resident John Devey, the chief mechanic at the Lehi Sugar Factory. Devey observed that the steam automobiles that the Silver brothers were driving were impractical and he set out to build in his own: a vehicle powered by a two-cylinder internal combustion engine which did not require a fire beneath the seat to get up a sufficient head of steam.

In reference to the “going bubbling” adage, it had entered the American vernacular language by 1900 to mean “riding in an automobile.” The bubbling references the noise heard in the storage battery when it is ready for work and, as such, is responsible for the new word “automobubble” and the associated verbiage “to go bubbling.”

Extras:

  • Video of a 1900 Locomobile on Youtube.

Sources:

  • Deseret Evening News 1900-04-17 Local News
  • Deseret Evening News 1900-05-08 An Automobile Ride
  • Deseret Evening News 1900-05-19 Automobiles in Salt Lake
  • Salt Lake Tribune January 8, 1900
  • Salt Lake Herald 1900-05-08 Automobiles Owned the Town for Two Hours Last Night
  • Silver Brothers' Iron Works Office and Warehouse NRHP form
  • Wikipedia: Locomobile Company of America
  • The first gasoline powered automobile of Utah was built in Lehi
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