Alice’s Journey

Young Alice had a real passion for automobiles, so much so that her husband, John R. Ramsey, was persuaded to buy a car owned by Maxwell in 1908.

Take any one of the many car brands which filled American streets in the early 1900s and add a normal housewife in her twenties from New York and the result will surprise you. The car marque in question was Maxwell-Briscoe, born out of the collaboration between Jonathan Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe in 1904 and which, for a certain time, was actually one of the three most important makes in America, on a par with Ford and GM and, although any memory of this American manufacturer has entirely disappeared, it is worth remembering its history not only from the point of view of the models it produced but also especially for the initiative that involved it with a young woman and mother just 22 years old, Alice Huyler Ramsey (1886 – 1983).

Young Alice had a real passion for automobiles, so much so that her husband, John R. Ramsey, was persuaded to buy a car owned by Maxwell in 1908. Subsequently, moved by the enthusiasm for four wheels, Ramsey entered an endurance race, showing great skill and making his presence known to the sales manager of Maxwell, who just at that point, was starting an advertising campaign aimed at women and had the idea of hiring Alice for a Coast to Coast run from New York to San Francisco, funded entirely by Maxwell.

Accepting the challenge willingly, on June 9, 1909 and accompanied by her two sisters-in-law and her friend Hemrine Jahns, all non-drivers, Alice departed from New York in a Maxwell DA 30 bound for San Francisco.  A journey of this magnitude was, at that time, a massive undertaking, since there were very few road signs and the roads were often unpaved and rough. Everything depended on the driver’s skills in orienting and in trying to map a route via one supplied to the crew, along with some help from locals on the way or alternatively just following telegraph poles which generally led to larger towns and cities. In addition to the difficulty in finding the right way, there were also the problems with the car, such as numerous punctures and the brake pedal breaking, but in any case replacements or repairs were always done successfully, thanks particularly to the savoir faire of this enterprising woman, who also carried out the necessary maintenance of the vehicle.

On 7th August they arrived at their destination, welcomed by an enthusiastic press and public, the whole initiative proving to be a great victory for both Maxwell, who saw his fame grow and strengthen, and for Alice, who was victorious in this adventure and as an aircraft pilot, and who had become the first woman to cross America by car, going against the stereotype that is still prevalent more than 100 years later and which still links females and the world of motoring negatively.

As a pilot she also participated in other competitions and her contribution was finally recognised, unfortunately posthumously, in 2000, seventeen years after her death, when she became the first woman to be inducted into the prestigious Automobile Hall of Fame.

As for Maxwell-Briscoe, it became part of the United States Motor Company group in 1910, which sadly failed three years later. The reorganisation of the company led to the farewell of the founder Briscoe, whilst the new Maxwell Motor Company continued its activities in 1925, when it was absorbed by the still extant and well-known Chrysler.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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