By Tedd Delong
Photo from the Gerard Lacey Collection
|Charles Jasper Glidden was the most ardent early advocate of the automobile as reliable transportation. He and Mrs. Glidden completed the first round-the world tour by auto in 1902 and then established the Glidden Tours as the premier reliability runs in the United States.|
In Who Was Who in America, Charles Jasper Glidden is first listed as "financier" and then as "automobilist". While it is true that the one occupation made the other possible, the man himself might well have reversed the order of importance.
Glidden was born August 29, 1857 in Lowell, Massachusetts into a family that originally reached New Hampshire in 1664. As was the custom of the period, he started to work at fifteen. At sixteen, he went to work for the Atlantic-Pacific Telegraph Company and by his twentieth birthday was a branch manager.
During the 1870's, he became acquainted with Alexander Graham Bell and performed experiments using telegraph lines to transmit telephone messages. He financed installation of telephone lines in Manchester, New Hampshire and foresaw the expansion of this new method of communication. He began a telephone exchange by selling the first subscription to telephone service of fifty needed to form this exchange. The exchange later combined with others to become a syndicate for the surrounding area and used the first multiple switchboards. He discovered women's voices carried better than men's on early devices, and women became the operators of choice. After installing the first long-distance telephone lines from Lowell, Massachusetts to Boston, Glidden continued to grow with the company until it served Ohio, Minnesota, Arkansas, Texas, and other states. The syndicate was sold to the Bell organization and Charles Jasper Glidden became a retired executive at age forty-three.
As for the description of automobilist, Glidden journeyed to the Arctic Circle in 1901 in his own auto, in the company of his wife, and returned successfully. In 1902, he organized the first round-the-world car tour. In a British Napier, he traveled 46,528 miles through thirty-nine countries, circumnavigating the globe twice. He was also accompanied on this trip by his wife. On this extraordinary journey, he traveled through countries that had not only not seen automobiles but had never heard of them. He was always dressed immaculately and corresponded with local newspapers from exotic locations such as Australia, Malaya, China, and Japan.
Some might wonder how a car could proceed where none had gone before. Preparation was the catchword for all Glidden's tours. He even went so far as to have flanged wheels available for use on railroad tracks. In the years between 1901 and 1908, he crossed most continents, went around the world twice, and continued to note his arrivals with letters to newspapers and motoring journals.
After having completed this remarkable pursuit, he hit upon an idea for testing automobile reliability and, perhaps, to get this reliability improved. He was a participant on the 1904 AAA Tour from New York to St. Louis and decided that this event should be an annual one. He donated an elaborate silver trophy to the AAA to be awarded on subsequent tours. As a result, the tours from 1905 to 1913 were known as the Glidden Reliability Tours. These trials proved to American auto enthusiasts that cars made here could complete arduous journeys with relatively little strife. Of course, rules made up for things that Glidden himself could not over come. In many cases, his personal wealth brought teams through spots that might have been considered impassable. This included paying for passage on local roads or for livestock that met untimely ends. The reliability trials were originally of short duration but became longer and longer, all still requiring the entrants to finish within certain time constraints to avoid penalty. His first tour seemed too easy. In fact, the contestants had to vote amongst those who finished without demerits to whom the trophy must be awarded. Glidden's personal choice of transport, his round-the-world Napier did not win. Percy Pierce in a Pierce Great Arrow did.
Glidden continued his own trips, always impeccably prepared and convinced manufacturers that preparation was the most important point in securing the publicity that went with winning a reliability run. His personal travels continued, in cars until 1908, and after this in various types of aviation devices as well as cars. He became a strong advocate of balloon travel and even went so far as to describe various ways to incorporate lighter-than-air transport into the everyday life of Americans. He felt that he would "see airplanes used in an individual capacity as commonly as are motorcycles."
Although his life was cut short by cancer on September 11, 1927, Glidden did see the automobile become the predominant type of transport for most Americans. Much of this success was due to his reliability trials and the publicity they generated. He dislike the fact that the auto manufacturers were more interested in this than his events, but the results outweighed this view.
On November 3, 1904, Charles Jasper Glidden presented the magnificent trophy that would bear his name to the American Automobile Association. This prize was to be presented to the winner of the 1905 tour and was so coveted that the tours carried Glidden's name until their conclusion.
Although Glidden had intended his tours to be "health-giving recreation" for blue-blooded ladies and gentlemen, they were in fact a fierce competition between car manufacturers. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent trying to win the trophy and the enormous prestige that came with it.