By Muriel Bristol | June 30, 2019
Automobiles would have been available since the 1890s, for those Milton “automobilists” that could afford them.
In 1905, the New Hampshire legislature enacted “An Act Relative to Motor Vehicles and the Operation Thereof.” It established for the first time, among other things, registration of motor vehicles, license plates, licensing of drivers, fees for those things, and speed limits. (Massachusetts had enacted its version in 1903).
AUTO LAW IN EFFECT. Concord, N.H., May 2. New Hampshire’s first law for the regulation of automobiles has gone into effect. It requires the registration and numbering of all automobiles and motor cycles, the registration of manufacturers and dealers, and the licensing of operators. The speed limits are 20 miles an hour without and eight miles an hour within business districts (Fitchburg Sentinel, May 2, 1905).
Speed limits were set at 8 miles-per-hour (mph) in business districts (simply defined as a quarter-mile stretch of buildings set 100 feet apart or less) and at 20 mph everywhere else.
There were no Stop signs or any other signage at all. Motorists were required to slow down when proceeding through intersections situated on curved stretches of road, when proceeding down steep hills, or when crossing bridges. They were to honk their horns when proceeding through the intersections situated on curves, as well as slowing down.
Persons who daily cross streets where speedy automobiles ply should feel at liberty to vote themselves Carnegie medals any day without waiting for the official award (Portsmouth Herald, February 5, 1906).
Automobile owners were to pay $3 to register their motor vehicles. Registrations, as well as operator licenses, were obtained by mail from the NH Secretary of State. (There was no inspection for the automobile nor any driving test for its driver). License plates were simply a number followed by the state designation “NH.” Two plates were required, front and back, for which the motorist was charged $1 apiece.
By way of comparison, we have seen that the first-class cook at the Hotel Milton received payment of $1 per day for her services. Had she a motor vehicle, which seems unlikely, it would have cost her most of a week’s pay to register it and outfit it with license plates.
Automobile prices ran between $1,650 and $1,750 dollars in advertisements of 1906. Their 4-cylinder motors generated, depending upon the brand and model, between 20 and 28 horsepower. One (The Model 14 Rambler) had a 3-speed sliding gear transmission that delivered its horsepower by direct drive to the rear axle. Another (the Apperson) advertised “Every Car a Special Car, Built for the Owner.”
So, automobiles were expensive. They were the “horseless” substitute for a horse and carriage, which were also expensive. Most people walked, hired a horse and carriage, took a trolley (in cities), or traveled longer distances by train.
(We might recall that Henry Ford’s market success would come through price reductions based upon the use of standardized parts and assembly-line factory processes).
Those traveling in motorcars were much exposed to wind and weather. Clothing merchants advertised a range of Men’s Driving and Automobile Coats. At the lower price points were Manchurian Sheep-Lined Auto Coats ($18.50). From there, one might move upscale through China Dog-Lined Coats, the same but with Otter collars, Best Quality Dog-Lined Coats, Galloway Coats, and, at the top of the line, Natural Raccoon-Lined Coats ($75.00). And, of course, a hat, gloves, and goggles.
Drivers of this period obtained their driver’s license by mail. Many, if not most, of these early automobiles would not have been operated in the wintertime. Drivers mentioned a process of disassembly, maintenance, and storage of cars over the winter. For those that continued to drive throughout the year, many models had no windshield wipers. (Some had no windshield). One winter driver told of keeping a bucket of glycerin in the front seat of his delivery truck during a snowstorm, and stopping periodically to sponge some of it on the windshield.
According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Report for 1908, Milton had between 12 and 16 registered automobiles, and 2 registered motorcycles, at any one time during the year ending August 31, 1907.
Those registrations marked with an asterisk had cancelled their registration at some point during the 1906-07 year. Most of those had also another registration. One supposes they had cancelled the registration for one car when they obtained another (which would affect the total number of cars registered at any one time).
Milton had 12 licensed drivers, 3 licensed livery drivers, and no traffic violations in its first year (1906-07).
Motor Vehicle Statistics.
REGISTRATIONS, LICENSES, AND VIOLATIONS FOR THE YEAR ENDING AUGUST 31, 1907.
Strafford County. Milton.
Automobiles – Leslie C. Brock, 838; Everett B. Cooley, 1821; Frank E. Fernald, 609; Arthur M. Flye, 1017; Asa A. Fox, 473*, 1464; Harry C. Grover, 1638*, 1783; Forrest L. Marsh, 1025; Robert S. Pike, 1177; Hazen Plummer, 902; Alfred T. Rudd, 616; John E. Townsend, 204*, 1055; John C. Townsend, 1497*, 1662.
Motor Cycles – Isaac H. Atherton, C89; Joseph E. Willey, C181.
Private Operators – Isaac H. Atherton, Everett B. Cooley, Frank E. Fernald, Arthur M. Flye, Asa A. Fox, Charles D. Fox, Harry G. Grover, Forrest L. Marsh, Robert S. Pike, Hazen Plummer, John C. Townsend, Joseph E. Willey.
Professional Chauffeurs – Isaac H. Atherton, Frank D. Stevens, Carl B. Tarbell.
*Registration cancelled during the year.
By way of comparison, Rochester had between 43 and 49 registered automobiles and 4 registered motorcycles. Farmington had between 11 and 13 registered automobiles and 2 registered motorcycles. Middleton had but 1 registered automobile. Wakefield had 5 registered automobiles and 1 registered motorcycle.
Registration fees for automobiles rose to $10 in 1909, while those for motorcycles dropped to $2. Speed limits increased to 10 mph in business districts and 25 mph everywhere else.
(We may note that it did not cost any more for a clerk to register an automobile in the Secretary of State’s book than it did to register a motorcycle. Automobiles were already being seen as a state revenue “cash cow”).
For a rather brief description of the main route through Milton in this period (1917-18), see also Milton, Straight Thru (North), in 1918.
… Autos and trucks require less than one-fourth the barn and yard space needed for animal transportation. This alone effects a large saving. One of the chief objections I have heard urged against autos and trucks is that they scare horses and cannot go over muddy and sandy roads. The remark that was once applied to whisky is applicable to motors. All are good, but some are better than others (Boston Globe, February 25, 1912).
NH General Court. (1908). Secretary of State’s Report. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=ok0bAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA2-PA127
NH Secretary of State. (1909). Laws of the State of New Hampshire. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=VZ1GAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA528