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THE EARLY AUTOMOBILE IN LOWELL
 
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Touring with the Gliddens

by

Barbara Reed

     Nathaniel Glidden was one of the many young people who came from the farms of New England to seek work in the industrial city of Lowell. Nathaniel Glidden was born in 1831 in Gilford, New Hampshire, where his father, Jasper, was a farmer. In the mid 1850's Nathaniel and his wife, the former Laura Clark of Laconia, New Hampshire settled in Spindle City. By 1857 Nathaniel found employment as a foundry worker and was living with his family on Howard Street in the Highlands.

     One of the children of Laura and Nathaniel was Charles Jasper Glidden, born in Lowell on August 29, 1857. At the age of fifteen, after completing his education in the city's public schools, Charles began his working career. His first job was as a telegraph messenger for the Northern Telegraph Company on Central Street.

     At the age of sixteen Charles became the night manager of the Franklin Telegraph Company in
 
 

Springfield, Massachusetts. Demonstrating his keen business abilities, he was transferred, after one month's time, to a management position with the Company's office in Manchester, New Hampshire. He served as manager of the Atlantic Pacific Franklin Telegraph Company's office in Manchester from 1873 to 1877. 

     While in Manchester, Charles connected businesses by wire to the office so that messages could be relayed without the use of a messenger. In 1876 he met Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, and they arranged for tests of Bell's new invention by sending messages over the telegraph lines. The tests were successful and Bell's name was on its way to fame. The Atlantic and Pacific Companywas consolidated with Western Union in 1877. 

     Charles Glidden at this time became more interested in the telephone and took charge of the building of private telephone lines in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He soon conceived the idea for a 
telephone exchange and suggested to the Bell Company that it organize such a system. The Company told him that if he could sign up fifty
subscribers in Lowell, they would set up the exchange. He quickly went about town getting the necessary subscribers. Signing up as his first 
customers were E.B. Pierce and the coal dealers, Whitehead and Company, who became the first telephone exchange members in the world.
 
 

     After the subscriptions were obtained the exchange opened on April 19, 1878. The original wiring for the exchange went into the building
through an open skylight and from there to the switchboard. In its infancy three hundred messages a day passed through the exchange. The first telephone operator was Charles' brother, J. Clark Glidden. Charles Glidden later discovered that the voices of women carried better than those of men so female employees eventually replaced their male counterparts as operators.

     The year 1878 was a banner one for Charles Jasper Glidden. His invention, the telephone exchange was inaugurated on April 19th, on July 10th he married Lucy Emma Clegworth of Manchester, New Hampshire, and on August 29th he celebrated his twenty first birthday. The following year, Mr. Glidden again busied himself with many activities. He built the first long distance telephone line, which ran from Lowell to Boston. Also in 1879 the Bell Company sold the Lowell Telephone Exchange to a syndicate made up of Charles Glidden, William A. Ingham and others.

     This new syndicate began organizing numerous exchanges including ones in Worcester and Fitchburg, Massachusetts. 
 
 

In 1880 the Maine Telephone Company, Granite State of New Hampshire and several Massachusetts companies which covered the 
entire state except for Boston and part of Southeastern Massachusetts were organized. Later Boston was added and the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company was organized. Charles Glidden served as Treasurer of the several companies and as Secretary of New England Telephone. 

     In 1883 the syndicate of Glidden, Ingham and others bought telephone and telegraph businesses in Minnesota, Arkansas, South Dakota, Texas and Ohio and in June of that year formed the Erie Telephone and Telegraph Company. By 1897 the fifty subscribers who made up the original Lowell Exchange had been joined by 46,000 other customers in the New England and Erie companies. 

     On January 17, 1901, the Bankers Syndicate acquired the Glidden group's interest in the Erie Telephone and Telegraph Company. Charles Glidden resigned as President but continued as a Director. In the eighteen years he was connected with the company, Mr. Glidden served as Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President and President. The Erie Telephone 
System was the largest in the United States, having almost 145 telephone stations and 250,000 miles of wire covering eight states and comprising one sixth of the Bell System. Thus, after twenty eight years in the telephone and telegraph business, Charles Jasper Glidden retired a very wealthy man at the ripe old age of forty three!

     Mr. Glidden maintained his interest in pioneering global communication after his retirement. When the Trans Pacific cable was completed from Vancouver, Canada to Australia in 1902, he sent the
first cable around the world from Boston addressed "To Myself”. No special arrangements were made and the transmission took 36 hours.

     In addition to the communications business, Charles Glidden had other interests. He was one of the organizers and President of the Traders National Bank, which was organized in 1892. Mr. Glidden was
also a 32nd Degree Mason and a member and Treasurer of Saint Paul's Methodist Church.

     Retirement brought another whole life for the Lowell businessman and his wife. Intrigued by another recent invention, Charles Glidden fell in love with the automobile. In July of 1901, Mr. and Mrs. Glidden went on a driving tour throughout Europe. When he was a young man working in Manchester, New Hampshire, Mr. Glidden was the local correspondent for several Boston newspapers so it was natural for him to write letters to the Boston Transcript describing his autotour. From London, he wrote:
 
 

     With pleasant recollections of lovely automobile rides over the Boston park system and drives of our charming Brookline and Newtons, curiosity and novelty attract me to the two countries where automobiles have made rapid progress and are received with much favor; viz. England and France. In November last I placed an order with a motor power company of London for a four passenger, four cylinder autocar, twenty four horse power on the! brake, but commonly known as a sixteen horse power "Napier". The car was finished about June 1 As this 
letter is not to deal with the beautiful scenery, landscapes, cathedrals, etc., of England and France, a more detailed account of the autocar and incidents of the journey may be of interest to the readers of the Automobile column in the Transcript. Important attachments on the autocar are two brakes of sufficient power to stop the car on the steepest grades, electrical igniting, the sparking being advanced from the driver's seat, an adequate governing gear to prevent the engine from racing, levers to control the speeds, of which there are four The gasoline tank carries a supply for 200 miles and tanks of lubricating oil carry two or three months' supply. This is applied to all parts automatically as it may be required. 

     Our party consists of three and our mechanician  a man furnished by the Napier people to keep in repair the autocar, it being driven by the 
 
 

writer. Two spare tires, a box of machinist's tools, and extra parts of machinery, a few pieces of hand baggage, and we are ready for our journey.

     We made an early start from the Hotel Metropole on Tuesday, July 9. Great care must be used in passing through the congested traffic sections of London, and a speed not more than five miles an hour was attained. Reaching the suburban districts, higher powers were used, and nightfall found us at Stratford on Avon, having covered one hundred miles our first day…. 

     Thursday we found ourselves crossing the backbone of England, and after several detours, stopped at Halifax, making a total run of two hundred and fifty miles in three days actual running time from London to Halifax seventeen hours and forty five minutes….We remained at Halifax until Monday, continuing on our journey, reaching London on
Thursday, after passing through Leeds, York, Lincoln, Cambridge, and Bedford. The entire journey of 555 miles found us on the road 7 days.

     The exhaust of the engine and speed of the car rolls up a large amount of dust, which covers the passengers in the second seat, but does not trouble the driver or passenger at his side. The highway, however, is covered with a dust cloud twenty feet from the 
 
 

surface of the road, and unless the wind is blowing hard, the dust trail is likely to be a mile or two in length. It was amusing to see people bury their faces in their hands and cover them with their hankerchiefs as you approached…. 

                                          Rouen, France, July 26 

     We left London on Monday, July 22, at 8:30 a.m….. At Canterbury a stop was made for lunch after which we proceeded to Folestone, completing our English tour of 650 miles. On arriving at the pier, we 
were somewhat disappointed that our car could not go over to France on the afternoon boat, as the rule of the company permits the transportation of autocars only on the morning boat. Leaving the car in charge of our mechanician, we crossed to Boulogne on the afternoon boat, which gave us an opportunity to arrange the landing of the car .... The car, which weighs three thousand pounds, is run onto a platform, and by use of a crane transferred from the pier to the boat, and by the same method transferred from boat to pier at Boulogne…. 

     One serious difficulty in driving over the French highways is in determining the proper direction at the junction of roads while running, from the fact that the guideposts bear signs upon which the lettering is so small that it is necessary to greatly 
 
 

reduce speed, and in many instances stop, in order to read them. Then again it is almost impossible from entire absence of signs, without inquiry, to find your way through the villages; however, this difficulty is
avoided in cities of which we are enabled to procure maps….

     Leaving Montreuil sur Mer Wednesday morning we made the run without incident to Dieppe, seventy two miles, excepting that during the last ten miles we had our first experience of driving through a heavy shower. Notwithstanding our rubber covers and coats, water found its way through our clothing to considerable extent. Up to date we have been fifty-two hours on the road running and covered 874 miles,
650 in England and 224 in France.

                                                      Angiers, Aug. 3

     The sheep are better trained in this country than in England, as they readily and quickly follow the shepherd and dogs to the side of the road or into an open field. None of the land is fenced, and the country has the appearance of one grand park, abounding in fruit, hay and grain of all kinds…. So popular and numerous have become the autocars that petroleum can be purchased in almost
 
 

every city and town en route, and the hotels are supplied with all the necessary oils and roomy garages for care and storage of the cars. We find colored glasses, and a mask and hood attached to the cap absolutely necessary to protect the eyes and face from dust and insects and the hot rays of the sun…. 

                                                       Paris, Aug. 21 

     The daily press reports some serious automobile accidents….Of course there is careless and reckless driving of cars, as there is in the driving of horses, but great care must be exercised in approaching elderly people and children. They become confused and often remain stationary directly in the center of the road, and you hardly dare pass them on the right or left for fear of their moving. The only remedy is to induce them by hornblowing, gestures and shouting, to move to one side or the other. 

      Monday, after a pleasant drive in the suburban districts of Dieppe, we drove the car to the custom house, passed through the usual formalities and received permission to ship the car across the Channel 
to Newhaven, whence it will be driven by our own mechanician to London. Some general repairs of minor importance will be made before shipment of the car to Boston.
 
 

     Our entire autocar tour is summarized as follows: Number of days on the road, twenty four. Distance traveled, 2,000 miles, 650 in England and 1,350 in France, average 83 1/3 miles per day. Running time, 110 hours. Average speed, under favorable conditions outside of city limits, twenty five miles per hour. Inner tubes damaged by punctures, three .... Only three tire troubles during entire drive of 2,000 miles…. Consider tires good for at least 1,500 miles more drive. Delayed by break in engine, seven days, delayed by breaking of spring, one day. Delayed by rain, only one day.

     Between 1901 and 1908 Charles Glidden traveled all over the world accompanied by his wife. On August 16, 1903, they were the first automobilists to cross the Arctic Circle, this occurring in the northern part of Sweden. In their British Napier, the Lowell couple made the first automobile trip around the world, not once but twice   first going east then traveling west covering 46,528 miles in 39 countries. Under a special order from the Government, Mr. Glidden was authorized to inspect the roads in other nations where they journeyed. In many of the
countries visited, the Glidden automobile was the first ever seen and was an object of great curiosity, especially in the Holy Land, where they received an enthusiastic welcome. 
 
 

     The Glidden automobile was able to travel where there were no roads by having flanged wheels available which could be used on railroad tracks. One of the couple's trips was made going by road from Boston to Chicago via Washington, then by railroad track through Arkansas and Texas to Mexico. 

     Due to the lack of suitable roads throughout much of the country and many restrictions for users, Charles Glidden became an active advocate for the automobile. When autos started to gain acceptance at the turn of the century, there were almost no paved roads and few maps of existing roadways. The machines were not reliable for long trips and the motoring laws reflected the public opinion that automobiles were works of the devil and should be banned. 

     Across the country some automobile owners banded together and began to form motor clubs with the intent of fighting for fairer laws and better roads. They also began producing some crude maps and route directions. It became obvious to many of the club members that it would be easier to solve their problems if they could operate on a national level. On March 4, 1902, representatives of nine clubs met in Chicago and the result of this meeting was the formation of the American Automobile Association AAA.
 
 

     In a short time many local clubs became affiliated with AAA. In order to draw the attention of the nation to cross country trips, it was decided to hold a tour through the United States where different road conditions would be tested. The destination would be the 1904 World's Fair at Saint Louis, Missouri and participants could join the tour along several different routes. Glidden was among the group from Boston, traveling in his 24 horsepower Napier. Of the 77 cars to make the tour, 66 reached Saint Louis and it was decided by the organization to hold another run during 1905.

     The 1905 Tour was open to all makes of automobiles but was designed as a Reliability and Endurance Tour with strict rules and a winner. Charles Glidden became the most notable sponsor when he offered a $2,000 sterling silver trophy to AAA as the prize. The gift of the trophy to the organization specified that "the club of which the
winner is a member shall have custody of the trophy until it is won by another."

     One of the participants in the 1905 Tour was Mrs. J. Newton Cuneo. At first AAA didn't want to allow her to race on the basis that Mr. Glidden intended the tour to be for "men and machines." As there was nothing in the written rules expressly prohibiting women's participation in the Tour, AAA
 
 

relented and Mrs. Cuneo entered the contest, where she became a regular participant for many years. 

     Since the Tour was a great success, Charles Glidden continued to offer sponsorship and the annual AAA contests became known as the Glidden Tours. Over the years the tour routes had various destinations.
The 1905 competition went from New York City to Worcester and Boston, Massachusetts, and then on to the White Mountains where the contestants drove up Mount Washington (and back  down) returning finally to New York. In 1911 the route again started at New York with the finish in Jacksonville, Florida, while the 1913 race ran from Minneapolis to Glacier Park, Montana. After the 1913 event it was decided that the Glidden Reliability Tours had served their purpose. American made cars  were no longer unreliable and the roads on which they were driven were now well maintained. 

     Besides his expeditions on the ground, Charles Glidden was also interested in travel by balloon. As the twelfth man in the United States to be licensed as a balloon pilot, he made over fifty ascensions, both in this country and in Europe. 

     In 1908 one of his ballooning trips made news in the local papers. His planned trip from Nashua, New Hampshire, to Boston was delayed due to the possibility of storms. When ready to ascend, it took 
 
 

some time to get off the ground as the car was designed to hold two people and there were three passengers on board.

     Finally the craft was aloft and floated over the Merrimac River to North Chelmsford, where it crossed the river in just 20 seconds. The balloonists passed over the Truant School and eventually to a point about a mile and a half from Chelmsford Center, landing on a nearby farm. The newspaper reported, "A woman was working in the yard and upon seeing this huge monster descending upon her land, uttered a shriek and rushed into the house and was seen no more."

     Charles Glidden was also President of the Aerial Navigation Company, formed to build and operate "airships" between Boston and New York. The company was the first such organization created in the world indicating once again Mr. Glidden's foresight in investing in modem technology.

     During the First World War the government had the benefit of Charles Glidden's great knowledge of aeronautics. In spite of being well into middle age, he served as a 1st Lieutenant, and later as Captain, in
the Aviation Division of the Signal Corps. After his discharge from active service, he served as a Major in the Reserve Corps, later being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Thereafter the Lowellian was known to many as "Colonel Glidden."
 
 

     As the Executive Secretary of the World's Board of Aeronautical Commissioners, the Colonel made an international trip to organize the first aerial derby around the world. In 1921he was elected President of the Commission and he became a strong advocate for recognizing the impact that airplanes would have on the world. 

     Colonel Glidden was quoted as stating that he expected to "see airplanes used in an individual capacity as commonly as are motorcycles now. Few people" he continued, " have the slightest conception of the magnitude of air traffic of the future. From the fact alone that air travel does not require the maintenance of highways, unlimited development of air transportation should be inevitable."

     On September 11, 1927, Colonel Charles Glidden died of cancer at his home in Boston at the age of seventy. Funeral services were held in 
Boston  and burial took place in the family lot at the Lowell Cemetery. Lucy Glidden passed away in March of 1931 and was buried with her husband.

     Nearly twenty years after the Colonel's death, the Glidden Tours were revived in 1946 in time for the 50th anniversary of the first manufacture of "auto buggies" by the Duryea Brothers. Opera singer and automobile enthusiast, James Melton organized the 
 
 

revival event and since that year, the Glidden Tours have been held annually. In 1982 the first Chrome Glidden Tour for automobiles manufactured after 1934 was held. The events are open to members of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America and the Antique Automobile Club of America which alternate sponsorship of the Tours that honor one of Lowell's own.

     Colonel Charles Glidden's fertile mind and business acumen provided him with the means to pursue his many interests. His obituary described him as "a pioneer in almost every modern method of transportation and communication, including the telegraph, telephone, radio, automobile, balloon and airplane." It is said of all his accomplishments, the Colonel took the greatest pride in the fact that through the Glidden Reliability Tours and the resulting publicity, he had done more than anyone else to popularize the automobile and to make the car a safe and reliable means of transportation for the average American.

 

Charles and Lucy Glidden
Charles and Lucy Glidden leaving Boston, MA

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