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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.

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