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Motoring into Archives Month

October 2012

curated by
Jaime Margalotti

American Archives Month is a collaborative effort by professional organizations and repositories around the nation to highlight the importance of records of enduring value. For 2012, the University of Delaware Special Collections is “Motoring into Archives Month” with selections that highlight early automobiles and their drivers in Delaware and beyond.

To drive an automobile in the early years of the 20th century, it helped to have a sense of adventure and good mechanical skills. Owners often performed their own maintenance, with catalogues such as the one on display here offering everything from odometers to wrenches to windshields. Lap robes and goggles were essential accessories for riding in an open car. Driving under these conditions may have not met modern ideals of comfort, but the excitement of such early road trips captured the nation’s attention. The chorus for the 1905 song “Automobiling” proceeds:

We’ll all go automobiling, our heads a’reeling, no place can be too far.
You bet no one will dare touch us for they cant catch us in our big motor car.
We’ll all go car.

Such rapid transit may have been thrilling, but it was also dangerous. This 1919 letter details a head–on collision in Wilmington which left the writer’s car with major damage and prompted her to declare of her assailant: “He is really one of those reckless drivers who should have his license rescinded by the authorities if he usually drives around curves the way he did last Thursday when he crashed into us.”

1. Iver Johnson Sporting Goods Co. Catalogue of automobile supplies 1908. Boston: The Company, 1908.
2. Automobiling; words and music by F. Collis Wildman, circa 1905.
3. Letter to Charles B. Evans from Georgina E. Jex, September 6, 1919. MSS 271, George G. Evans Family papers and supplement.
4. G. Burton Pearson, Sr., wearing a “duster” coat to protect his clothing while driving his open automobile, circa 1920s. MSS 432, G. Burton Pearson, Jr., papers.

Grace Lloyd Collins Walsh nee Collins (1896?–1992) was a prominent Wilmington, Delaware, businesswoman specializing in the sale of fine gifts, as well as a freelance artist. During World War II, she served as a chauffeur with the American Women’s Voluntary Service Motor Transport Service. Collins completed classes in “Map and Compass Reading,” “Motor Mechanics,” and “Air Raid Protection.” She used her own car, a 1941 Chevrolet, for her work with the AWVS.

All items part of MSS 145, Grace Lloyd Walsh papers.

5. Photograph of Collins and other members of the American Women’s Voluntary Service (AWVS)
6. Chauffeur license issued to Grace Lloyd Collins
7. AWVS armband worn when on duty with the Motor Transport Service, but not in uniform

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