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A Helping Hand: 1919

A Helping Hand: 1919

Washington circa 1919. "Woman being instructed in driving of automobile." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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A pilot's view

I've been a lightplane pilot for over 30 years; and I have to tell you it's amazing the similarity of this panel to some airplanes built from the the 1930s even up through today.

The big switch on the panel looks exactly like an AN-standard magneto (ignition) switch used on most planes until the 1960s. The oil pressure and temperature gauges are dead ringers for those used in numerous light airplanes. Even the protruding light is similar design (although larger) to a standard instrument panel post light. For many years aviation technology was basically frozen at the WWII stage; the theory being that if it works, don't fix it!


This photo would be banned in Saudi Arabia!

I think it's a Buick

Very simular to a 25 Buick Standard Model I owned a few years ago. The ears on the pedels, speedometer, and the dash switch for the lights are the very same.

[As noted earlier, it's a Marmon touring car. Not a Buick. - Dave]

You're choking me!

One of the last mass-produced cars to have a manual choke were the Honda Civics of the mid-eighties (my friend had one). Most American cars from the 1950's on had automatic choke valves, thus dispensing with the need for an on-dash control knob. Now, with the advent of electronic fuel injection, the choke has gone the way of the dinosaur. Some outboard boat motors still have them though.

Not sure what make of car...

I'm not sure what make of car, but yes, the button on the floor is the starter. It's actually a lever, not an electrical contact; when you push it down, the lever moves the bendix to engage the flywheel, and contacts in the starter itself make the electrical connection.

Also, if this car is anything like a T, the pedals are only clutch and brake- and the clutch is inboard, I believe. The throttle is actually one of the two levers on the steering wheel- seen only at the very upper edge of this photo. The other lever is the spark advance/retard.

[It's a Marmon touring car. - Dave]

A mechanic's view

I've been an auto mechanic for over 30 years, and still have some old-time customers say "when I step down on the starter" even though they haven't owned a car that had that feature in over 40 years.

Do I spy

the well-turned ankle and stylish slipper of Mlle. Elinor Blevins, Auto Fiend?

Choke the Motor

The choke was also engaged to enrich the gas-air mixture for starting the car and warming it up, especially in cold weather. "Choke" signifying less air, more gas. I thought the throttle was the primitive cruise control.

Electric starters

The electric starter is said to be the most significant feature ever added to the automobile. It allowed women to be able to operate an automobile. It allowed the less-mechanically inclined people to operate an automobile. It made for easier starting in cold weather. With crank start, you didn't wind it like a clock. You could only give it a half turn with a good strong yank. If it didn't start and you didn't break your hand with engine kick-back, you gave it another hard yank. Electric start was patented by Charles Kettering around 1911 and first appeared on the 1912 Cadillac. It became standard on most cars by the late teens. It became optional on the Model T Ford in 1919.

How I learned to drive

The button on the floor is indeed the starter, on the dash is a choke and a spark advance. You could use the choke as a primitive form of cruise control, pull it out a little and putt on down the road. The dash light enabled you to read the gauges at night. I really like the emergency brake.

That black glove

So easy to look and not see! Thanks, Dave!

Woman Being Instructed?

Okay, I give up. Where's the instructor?

[In that big black glove. - Dave]


I can see what appears to be the clutch and brake pedals, but is that little button the accelerator?

[I think that's the starter. Brake and throttle seem to be one above the other. - Dave]

Instrument Panelist

Neat that the clock is directly in front of the driver and the speedometer is on the right. I like the dash light at the top. Any idea what make of car? Interesting curve to the windshield side post, very much like a 1950s Austin Healy, just a bit early!

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