First auto show in 1909 meant Bangor had arrived

Posted April 17, 2009, at 6:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

When the famous actress Marie Doro announced in the fall of 1908 that she planned to arrive at the Bangor Opera House and other “one-night stands” in an automobile instead of on the train, it was one more sign that the horseless carriage was here to stay. “The idea is an entirely novel one,” observed the Bangor Daily News on Oct. 8, adding it to its collection of auto firsts.

In an editorial titled “Motor Mania” appearing after the first Eastern Maine Automobile and Motor Show was held in Bangor a few months later, the newspaper declared, “The gasoline motor car is no longer an experiment. It has demonstrated its usefulness not only as a racing machine for millionaires and cranks to play with, but as a useful vehicle of travel, or for the delivery of packages and mail, for the carrying of passengers for pay, for the transportation of physicians … that it is now indispensable to modern civilization.”

The first Eastern Maine Automobile and Motor Show, held at the Bangor Auditorium between April 19 and 24, 1909, a century ago this week, was perhaps the best evidence of all that the automobile was becoming indispensable to modern civilization as well as to auto dealers. By having one of these popular shows scheduled here, the Queen City clearly had arrived.

Several Bangor dealers were represented at the show. They included S.L. Crosby Co., agents for Overlands and Fords, G&J Tires and K. W. Magnetos; A. A. Robinson, agent for the Kissel Kar and Regals; L.A. Whitney, agent for Maxwells and REOs; J.H. Nash and Clarence Swan, agents for the E.M.F.; A.B. Purington, agent for Wintons; and Charles B. Treat, agent for the Cadillacs. Salesmen arrived from Portland selling Knox, White, Franklin, Thomas, Chalmers-Detroit, Cushman and Lane Steamer automobiles that had been shipped ahead by train. In all, there were about 30 machines on the floor.

Big advertisements and boosterish stories by enthusiastic reporters, who most likely could not afford to own autos, began appearing in the city’s two daily newspapers. The Portland Company in particular was anxious to tout its Knox. A large photograph in the Bangor Daily News showed 11 Knox Model O cars worth $34,000 (in total) lined up on a residential street “just delivered to Portland customers.” The Knox was “the greatest hill climber in Maine,” declared a large display advertisement. The company had sold more Knox Model Os in Portland that season “than all the other makes of the same approximate price put together.”

S.L. Crosby wanted it known that its Fords could climb hills too, and that its Overland was “NOT AN EXPERIMENT.” They had been around, according to a large advertisement, “since the days of the bicycle,” which wasn’t actually all that long ago. The company produced the biggest display in the show — nine Overlands and Fords, “profusely decorated with carnations, dozens of flowers being used.”

By opening day, the cavernous auditorium at Main and Buck streets, which also served as Bangor’s opera temple or roller-skating rink or marathon track when circumstances demanded, had been attractively decorated and Hall’s Orchestra was on hand to play marches, waltzes and overtures. But it snowed and attendance was disappointing the first night.

Three display cars, all owned by distinguished local people, attracted the most attention, said the Bangor Daily News. They were the Hon. Edward H. Blake’s six-cylinder Overland, M.H. Andrews’ Winton and Dr. Sawyer’s four-cylinder Overland “finished in white.” Innumerable exhibits had been set up displaying such accessories as tires, horns, lamps, speedometers and hand cleaner from the Flash Chemical Company.

As the days went by, attendance picked up. The B&A and the Maine Central railroads offered reduced rates for attendees. Visitors from Old Town, Newport, Charleston, Belfast, Houlton and Caribou were among those on hand. Cadillacs were sold to people from Milo, Caribou, Brewer and Bangor. S.L. Crosby had sold seven Overlands and Fords. Every dealer sold at least one car, said promoters.

As the show continued, reporters were getting desperate for things to write about. Then they discovered one Mr. Dennison, a driver for the Knox company who had raced for the Vanderbilt Cup. He would be participating in hill climbing and speed contests on Long Island in a few days. He had recently driven a mile in 47 seconds, “and that’s going almost fast enough to satisfy most people,” observed the reporter. “Twice he has been under the car in accidents but his most serious injury has been broken ribs.”

The evening of April 23 was ladies night when any woman accompanied by an escort would be admitted free. In fact, some women already owned their own autos and many had been there buying “supplies,” but tonight they would get special attention from the agents, and “the new gowns of the women will add much to the beauty of the already handsome decorations,” declared the Bangor Daily News.

The show ended in another storm. Few braved the blast. Some, however, like Walter Savage, who made a last-minute purchase of a 38 hp purple Knox touring car he had been admiring all week, could no longer contain their motor mania.

The first Bangor auto show was declared a success even by a representative of the national magazine Motor. Next year’s show already had been scheduled for April 23-29, and much of the space had been rented. As of June 7, fewer than 4,000 autos had been registered in Maine, said the BDN. Imagine what would occur when Henry Ford got his assembly line up and running.

Wayne E. Reilly may be reached at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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