Look Out! Early 20th Century Reckless Driving

1920s wrecked car

Car Wreck. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1920

This photo taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1920s was not picked for its shock value, but for the history it contains of an era long since gone. Until the early 1900s, the primary mode of daily transportation in the United States had four legs and ran on hay. Horse-drawn carriages and buggies could be driven by almost anyone – even children. By the early 1910s, a different kind of horsepower hit the road — and in a big way, eventually outnumbering their carrot-munching counterparts. In the first 10 years of the 1900s, there were no stop signs, traffic lights, lane lines, brake lights, driver’s licenses, or posted speed limits. It was the wild west when it came to driving. Drinking and driving? Not that big a deal. Poorly maintained roads, uneducated drivers, and speeds approaching 40 mph was the perfect combination for some really bad accidents. This photograph sure hits home with just how fragile those early cars were.
Dodge Brothers was the first automaker to build a dedicated test track with a hill climb, while other car companies tested their new vehicles on city streets. The speedway test is by one of many given Dodge Brothers cars before being O.K.’d for shipment. It was said that John Dodge crash-tested a car into a brick wall at 20 mph to study the results. His reasoning was that “someone else is going to do it.”
Dodge Test Track 1915

Dodge Test Track 1915

The clipping is from the Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 21, 1915 newspaper.

Dodge Main test track 1915

Bismarck Daily Tribune April 21, 1915

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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