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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

© 2018 SHORPY INC.

[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Auto Show: 1917

The Auto Show: 1917

"Washington, D.C., auto show. March 3-10, 1917." A display of Chalmers and National cars. National Photo Co. Collection glass negative. View full size.

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Interesting that both these cars have a sign on the windshield stating that they've already been sold. Wonder if this is the same Chalmers that manufactured tractors under the 'Allison Chalmers' name?

[You're thinking of Allis-Chalmers. - Dave]

Granny's Chalmers

I once asked my paternal grandmother what the first car she remembered riding in was and she told me it was her father's 1917 Chalmers! My great-grandfather was a well-to-do man in a small town in North Carolina. (He distilled and bottled legal liquor). My grandmother told me that a salesman brought the car out to their house and sold it to him and someone came out to pick up the salesman. She said that eventually her older brother, Sanford, "destroyed the thing and drove it right off its frame!"

Union Garage

The first person who lived in my house bought a Chalmers in 1917 from the Union Garage, which started as a place where the smaller automakers could get together to sell their cars and not have to spend big bucks on building their own showrooms. I believe that Ford used space there. The Union Garage as such didn't last long, though the building was still standing in the 60's. Today, the lot is covered by the Verizon Center. The Army Air Corps used part of the building during WWI, but moved out quickly as the air was too foul from all the exhaust.

[Below, the Union Garage in 1915. In July 1917 the building was taken over by Semmes Motor Co., which sold Dodge and Hudson cars as well as Wilcox and Vim trucks. - Dave]

Auto Shows

Auto shows prior to WWII were a different venue than we've gotten used to in these past 60 years. Because there were very few purpose-built exhibit halls anywhere in the country, auto shows were usually held in industrial loft buildings similar to the one shown in the photo. Consequently, exhibit promoters had to do their best to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse with the sort of decorations shown. On very rare occasions, well-connected promoters could wangle permission to use a high ceilinged downtown armory.

[The Washington Automobile Show was held on the third and fourth floors of the Union Building downtown. There was an orchestra and dancing. - Dave]

Big cars in D.C.

In these pictures of Washington, one thing that stands out to my eyes is the preponderance of BIG and expensive cars. Caddies, Packards, Pierces. Very few Fords in sight. In contemporary pics from other cities, even prosperous oil towns in Oklahoma, the only cars visible are Ford T's with perhaps an occasional Dodge.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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