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Auf Wiedersehen: 1917

Auf Wiedersehen: 1917

February 1917. "Count J.H. von Bernstorff, ambassador from Germany, leaving German Embassy." The scene at the embassy in Washington after Woodrow Wilson ended diplomatic relations with Germany, two months before the United States made its declaration of war. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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CT Electric Truck

This is a CT Electric, made by the Commercial Truck Company of Philadelphia from approximately 1908 to 1927. On the front of the truck you can just see a bit of the CT logo peeking out from the bottom of the tarp - right above the Adams Express Company sign.

CT logo

Just between April 15 and May 15, 1912 alone, the Adams Express Company purchased 85 electric vehicles (35 of these being CT Electrics) bringing their electric fleet up to 250 electric trucks of various sizes and makes. By contrast American Express Company had 86 electrics.

If the tarp wasn't there you would see the unique CT double steering wheel - an instant identifier.


Nearly two-dozen CT Electrics survive, with most of them being odd-looking Model F or Model 36A 5-Ton flatbeds from a fleet of 20 that was owned by Curtis Publishing Company (Jack and Jill, Ladies Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post). Curtis kept them in service until 1962, thus sparing them from the scrap drives of WWII. Nicely restored ones can be seen here (note the double steering wheel) and here.

Electric car?

The autocar ad states that the adams express company had a fleet of over 400 autocars. How can one tell whether the truck in the photo is electric or motor car?

[Autocars of this vintage, from what I can tell, had the motor under the seat and the radiator behind and halfway below the front bumper (see the illustration a few comments down). There's no radiator that I can see, and this truck has a humongous battery box, just like the ones on the Walker electric trucks shown in some other posts here. Also that's not the Autocar logo on the front. But I am no truck expert. There must be one out there who can help us. - Dave]

Thank you!

Alas, no sign of it. The block seems to be completely developed and the site seems to be occupied with a modern Homewood Suites hotel.

Ferguson Residence

Yet another of architect Adloph Cluss's buildings in Washington. Originally built for Thomas Ferguson in 1881, it was acquired by the German government in 1893. During the second World War, the U.S. seized the property and sold it for $100,000. It was demolished in 1959.


Has anyone dug up the address of the 1917 German Embassy? I tried to dig it up online but was unsuccessful. I'm wondering if this building still exists. I assume it's not in the same location as the current modern German embassy building in Washington (several governments later).

[1435 Highland Terrace, Massachusetts Avenue. - Dave]

The tarp

Note that the photo was taken in February. The tarp is there to retain engine heat and channel it over the driver.

[If this is an electric truck there is no engine. - Dave]

German-Mexican Alliance

The Zimmermann Note was sent from Germany to Ambassador Johann von Bernstorff in Washington on January 16, 1917. It was forwarded to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt three days later. The contents of the coded telegram instructed Ekardt to offer Mexico the return of territories lost to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War, including Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, in exchange for Mexico's alliance should the U.S. enter the war on the side of the Allies (presuming, of course, that the Germans won the war).

The telegram was intercepted immediatly by the British, who decoded it, but couldn't reveal its' contents without also revealing their ability to break German codes. Between February 19 and 23, 1917 the text of the telegram made its way through the American diplomatic chain, evantually reaching President Wilson. The note was leaked to the American press a week later, fomenting popular outrage and contributing America's entry into World War I.

Thanks to DoninVa for mentioning this fascinating footnote to history in his earlier post. I seem to remember reading (or reading about) an historical novel whose premise was a WWI German-Mexican alliance with roots back to the (authentic) German Hapsburg "Emporer" Maximilian from 1864-1867. I can't find a reference to the novel, but if I remember correctly, the auther posits that Germany achieved a stalemate and negotiated peace in WWI partly due to a Mexican incursion into Texas and New Mexico and the occupation of the border city of El Paso - causing the U.S. to divert troops from Europe to the Southwest. The Germans and Mexicans sued for a settlement with the U.S. that saw the return of the Gadsen Purchase to Mexico and caused El Paso, Southern New Mexico and parts of Arizona, including Tucson, to be returned to Mexico.

I love those historical "what if" questions. Thanks again to DoninVa for bringing up the Zimmermann Note.

Goober Pea


Those rear tires look like a very early version of the dual tires found on the semi-trailers and trucks of today.

Zimmermann telegram

The German ambassador's departure may or may not have anything to do with the revelation of the Zimmermann Telegram during February 1917 (others can Google), or the Germans beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on Feb 1, 1917 and the resulting American deaths aboard British vessels.


The truck looks like an Autocar.

[The Autocar was a motor truck, with a radiator behind the bumper that we can see in the illustration below. The truck in our photo looks more like an electric. News articles in the Washington Post mention Adams Express having a fleet of 60 electric trucks, some made by Lansden. - Dave]

First Car Bra

That is such an strange-looking vehicle - or is it a wagon waiting to be hitched to a truck? I wonder what the tarp is covering at the front. Also, those back wheels look like they could run on rails. Anyone have any further info on this thing?

[The tarp is covering the controls of what looks like an electric truck. Most trucks back then had solid rubber tires. - Dave]

Might want to check that photo...

Doesn't seem to match the caption, unless it was common practice for heads of state to ride shotgun on the back of a delivery van!

[The occasion for the photograph was the ambassador's departure. He's not actually in the picture. And ambassadors are not heads of state. - Dave]

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