A Chappie Tries the New Horseless Carriage

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A fellow named John W. Keller wrote for several New York City newspapers during the 1890s under the pseudonym of “Cholly Knickerbocker.” His subjects were the people who frequented fancy night clubs and expensive restaurants, the perceived “upper crust” of New York Society. In a March 1897 issue of the New York Journal, he wrote the following account of one of New York’s rich young men (who hung out at private clubs and were known as “Chappies”), who had just had his first ride in a new-fangled “horseless carriage,” vehicles that at that time were considered by many as not quite respectable.

A Chappie Tries the New Horseless Carriage

In search of a new sensation not inconsistent with a proper observation of Lent, I went yesterday and rode in a horseless carriage. I don’t regret the experiment. After the first flush of the thing, and even without the familiar aspect of the harness and the horse, it wasn’t unlike riding in an ordinary carriage.

But it is in that first sensation that you get your novelty. It’s as though you were being served with a “high ball,” without the ball. There is a sense of incompleteness about it. You seemed to be sitting on the front end of a huge pushcart, propelled by an invisible force and guided by a hidden hand.

There is also a seeming brazenness to the whole performance; I dreamed once that I walked down Fifth Avenue in my pajamas in the full tide of the afternoon promenade, and I almost died with shame before I awoke. Yesterday I had something of the same feeling as I sat there and felt myself pushed forward into the very face of grinning, staring and sometimes jeering New York. But it wore away after a while.

Gradually I felt that I did not need the protection of a horse in front of me. I returned the wicked glances of the bicycle ladies on the Boulevard, and when I got back to Fifth Avenue I was almost as much at home and felt almost as devilish as the other chappies whose faces were glued to club windows, and whose eyes were riveted on the beautiful river of feminity that sweeps in counter currents along the main thoroughfare of fashion.

The fellow who sold me the horseless carriage said that there was no call for such vehicles from the clubs, a statement that I do not doubt. Your club chappie likes novelty, but he doesn’t want the whole world to watch his indulgences in that direction. He has a reputation for conservatism that he must preserve. He will ride in a horseless carriage by and by, but it will be when it will attract no more attention than to ride a bicycle. I know two or three chappies who have tried the horseless carriage, but it has been after dark and along streets where the electric lights were not too bright. I believe that I am the first representative of dudedom who has ever ridden in a horseless carriage in the garish glare of day.

I congratulate myself that I survived the ordeal. At one time I thought the nasty little boys who throng the un-aristocratic avenues where I went first to avoid my acquaintances were going to stone me. They ran after me and hooted and cast pebbles and otherwise evinced derisive hostility to such a degree that I begged the motorman to make haste to the Boulevard where I hoped to find protection among the many other strange and curious things that swarm there on wheels.

I was right. Only the horses paid any attention to us on the Boulevard. Elisha’s chariot of fire wouldn’t create the slightest ripple of excitement on the Boulevard. On Fifth and Madison Avenues surprise was expressed by an aristocratic elevation of the eyebrows, except among my personal acquaintances, whose startled faces indicated their fear that I had gone mad. The horseless carriage will have to be improved before it becomes popular in chappiedom. There must be some sort of a guard in front to keep clubmen from tumbling out on their way home after 3 a. m. There must also be some sort screen for summer night driving in the Park. As the vehicle is now constructed there is altogether too much publicity about it. The chappie’s dearest prerogative is his privacy and he is going to preserve it, horse or no horse.

Cholly Knickerbocker

– Sam Moore

This 4 hp, 2-cylinder car was built in 1897 by the Mueller Manufacturing Company of Decatur, Illinois, and given the name “Mercury.” The pipe grid on the front of the dashboard is a condenser for cooling the water from the cylinders. (From the March 1897 issue of The Horseless Age magazine)

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