By Carl Reese
In 1903 Horatio Nelson Jackson accepted a $50.00 ($1500.00 in 2015) bar bet that he couldn’t drive an automobile across the country. Amazing since he didn’t have any experience with a car, or much less own one. With no driving experience or maps to follow Horatio set out to prove to everyone wrong. One man’s mission to show the world that the automobile was something more than just a passing fancy.
The first step was to find the car. Jackson a physician by trade had no mechanical experience. He convinced a mechanic and chauffeur, Sewall K. Crocker, to be his co-driver. Crocker convinced Dr Jackson to purchase a Winton car, since Crocker had some prior experience with the Winton. He bought a used 20 hp two-cylinder Winton, which he affectionately called the Vermont. And so it began, men would forever name their automobiles (an inanimate object) as if they were living thing such as a horse.
On May 23rd, 1903 Jackson and Crocker set out to be the first “cannonballers” in history. Though it didn’t start out as a race, it ended as one. Shortly, after their departure two other teams set out to steal Horatio’s glory.
Despite many obstacles including a blown tire in the first fifteen minutes of the journey, he remained positive in his many letters to his wife.
Almost immediately they made necessary modifications to the car. One such modification included updating the carriage lights. This took place on the second evening, as they proved to be way too dim. Outrunning your headlights it seems, was a problem for this first cannonball crew too.
While traveling thru Idaho, Jackson picked up a second companion….a dog named Bud. Which he purchased for $15 (nearly 400.00 today). Dr Jackson soon realized the dust was bothering the dog, and outfitted Bud with some goggles.
Having burned about 800 gallons in fuel. They arrived in New York City on July 26, 1903, sixty-three days, twelve hours, and thirty minutes after commencing their journey in San Francisco. Jackson and Crocker were the first men to successfully transit the North American continent in an automobile.
The second group to arrive two weeks later, beat Horatio’s time by 1.5 days. Horatio was the first and the fastest for 2 weeks. After that he was just the first. Records were made to be broken, right? The third team (also the last) to make it to New York, took 73 days total. The team was driving a smaller cheaper car made by Oldsmobile. Though arriving last, they drove their front tires into the water then claimed to be the “First sea to sea trip across America”. So there you have it, controversy started with the very first cannonball.
Oldsmobile didn’t win. In fact they were 11 days slower than the fastest team. However , it didn’t stop them from claiming a headline for Oldsmobile.
Dr.Jackson went on to be a War hero, one of the founders of the American Legion and successful business man whom was once ticketed in his home town for exceeding the 6 mph speed limit. His car is on display a the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
To learn more about Horatio Nelson Jackson check out the documentary “Horatio’s Drive” below.
Source#1: Horatio’s Drive Documentary