© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
One of our museum's goals is to educate and inform visitors about early American automotive history and development. Some of the truly fascinating aspects of this early period are the stories behind the famous (and infamous) people who made it all happen. We have several exhibits inside the museum showcasing a few of these individuals, but unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough space to give visitors an in-depth understanding of these early pioneers. However, during our research we have read dozens of books on the subject, and so I thought I would provide a list of some of our favorites. An Amazon link to each is included.
Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America (paperback). This book is an exhaustive study, and yet, one of the most entertaining and thorough books about the people behind America's early automotive history. This should come as no surprise, as the author was one of the foremost researchers of early American automotive history, Beverly R. Kimes. She and Henry Austin Clark, Jr. coauthored THE encyclopedia on the subject - Standard Catalog of American Cars (paperback).
Next up is a terrific background book about the history of early electric vehicles. I found it quite interesting, and a pretty fast read. Surprisingly, it isn’t overly technical and as a bonus, it is available cheap on Kindle: The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History (kindle). I enjoyed this one as it details early issues surrounding the (chicken-and-egg) problems of charging stations, range anxiety, battery swapping, and all the other modern day discussions we are having surrounding electric vehicles, except 100 years ago!
We also enjoy entertaining books about fun and interesting people. One of our favorites in this category is Bud & Me: The True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys (kindle), a wonderful story of two brothers (5 and 9 years old) who, in 1910, drove their Brush runabout from New York to Oklahoma, by themselves! The book details many rich and colorful family stories of the boys' travels, from near-harrowing breakdowns to meeting the President of the United States. The book is just plain entertaining and heartfelt from beginning to end, and is available in our museum's gift shop.
(paperback), a book about the first woman to drive across the country, in 1909. In addition, there is a wonderful children's version of this story: Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure (kindle). This is a great little story to read to a child, or give them as a gift.
Speaking of kids books, I have a 7-year-old, and I’ve read my daughter a couple hundred books by now--many of them, over and over and over. One book in particular I always read to her when we visit the car museum is Tin Lizzie (paperback) by Peter Spier. It’s a wonderful story that you will simply never get tired of reading to your child, and they will be interested in the story from 3 years old (due to the wonderful artwork) all the way up to early adulthood.
And I just can’t help but give honorable mention to another terrific kids' book, Rattletrap Car Big Book (paperback). This is a physically BIG BOOK as the title suggests, so it is especially fun to read to a group of (younger) kids. They can all see the pictures, and it has reoccurring parts that kids can join in saying out loud. It’s a little expensive, but the entertainment value is just plain huge and worthy of your (child’s) collection.
I hope this list helps you out with some Christmas gift ideas and a few worthwhile books to add to your winter reading list. But more importantly, reading (and giving) books like Tin Lizzie, Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure, and Bud & Me to children will give them a glimpse into America's early automotive pioneers and adventurers. And, just maybe, you'll inspire some to look into this huge part of American history, which isn't taught in schools. However, the lessons of overcoming adversity, pioneering spirit, imagination, engineering curiosity, and so on, are valuable and simply timeless.