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BOOK REVIEW: PIONEERS, ENGINEERS, AND SCOUNDRELS: THE DAWN OF THE AUTOMOBILE

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Published on Mon, Feb 14, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Book Review

PIONEERS, ENGINEERS, AND SCOUNDRELS THE DAWN OF THE AUTOMOBILE IN AMERICA by Beverly Rae Kimes Warrendale, PA: SAE International, 2004 Hard Bound; 532 pages 1.2d x 6.2w x 9h ISBN: 0768001431X Project Code: R358 $39.95

Review by HAROLD OSMER

Ford Mustang Stamp

Imagine a gathering in a room with, say, 300 people in it. All of them know one another to some degree, all are interconnected by a common interest, they lived about 100 years ago, and each has contributed in ways large and small to the formation of our current American way of life. Further imagine yourself as familiar with many of the names and some of the stories but searching for someone to help bring the tales together. Fortunately, our delightful hostess in this scenario is Beverly Rae Kimes. With Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America, Kimes provides a fascinating account of the myriad people, places, and technological innovations that formed the American automobile industry. At first, no one paid much attention to the farmhouse mechanics and tinkerers attempting to harness steam engines to horse buggies. When less cumbersome electrical and gasoline power became available in the late 1800s, automotive pioneers and engineers turned their collective attention toward the promise of individual mobility. Businessmen, bankers, and speculators - many of them scoundrels - also saw an opportunity and created an entirely new industry. American society would never be the same. Kimes starts at the beginning with Oliver Evans, who operated the first American vehicle to move under its own power in July 1805. Though nothing more than a "harbor dredge dressed as a land carriage," the steam-powered Orukter moved at 3 or 4 miles per hour and delivered the dredge for duty on the banks of the Schuykill River in Philadelphia. Evans issued a challenge to his critics that for $3000 he could build a steam carriage capable of outrunning the swiftest horse. No one took him up on the offer. The Orukter preceded the steam locomotive age by four decades. Early experimentation with various forms of propulsion took place in relative obscurity. Contemporary scientific journals and, later, automotive magazines reported on the efforts of these obscure inventors. Kimes gives the reader enough technical details to illustrate her point then moves along in a more or less chronological manner. ['more or less' because there are so many intertwined sto By 1900, it was becoming clear that the automobile was here to stay. America itself was the land of opportunity and the automobile promised a degree of freedom that heretofore did not exist. Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels traces the twisted, rough road of the automobile from invention to acceptance to industry. From Evans, Duryea, Haynes-Apperson, and Colonel Pope to Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler, the author deftly introduces the reader to major and minor players present in the formative years of the American automobile industry. Personalities, politics, and rivalries abounded. The Dodge brothers made parts for Ford, who nearly joined GM. Twins Francis and Freelan Stanley never exceeded 800 units annually and would not sell to anyone they did not like. WWI saw many auto manufacturers retool for the war effort only to have the government contracts reneged upon after spending millions. As the real-life hostess at our imaginative gathering, Kimes fills us in on how each individual in the room added to the collective knowledge of the rest, resulting in a wonderful book. Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America by Beverly Rae Kimes Published by SAE International 2004 hardcover, 532 pages $39.95 order via 1-877-606-7323 or SAE International or Amazon.com

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