Classic Model T Relives Ford’s Famous 1915 Cross-Country Trek

Aug 20, 2015

A 1915 Ford Model T completed a 3,500 mile trek across the U.S. Wednesday (Aug. 19) by arriving at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The trip was a recreation of the cross country journey taken by Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, 100 years ago.

The purpose of the trip was to elevate national awareness concerning the importance of the nation’s automotive heritage and the role of the Ford Model T in shaping America, according to the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA).

In the summer of 1915, 21-year-old Edsel Ford-”the only son of Henry Ford-”and six boyhood friends were among the thousands of Americans that took to the road to visit the west and the world’s fair exposition in San Francisco. At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), the Ford Motor Co. had one of the most popular exhibits at the fair: a working Model T assembly line that produced about 18 cars each afternoon and more than 4,000 Model Ts during the course of the World’s Fair. The whereabouts of the original Edsel Ford Model T is not known, accordion to HVA.

The PPIE was widely promoted and provided the impetus for many automobile owners to make adventurous cross country tours using early national highway systems from east to west.

HVA’s “Road Trip Century Celebration” was launched July 17 with an HVA driving team using a refurbished 1915 Ford Model T similar to the one Edsel Ford drove, following his epic journey from Detroit to San Francisco. HVA collaborated with the Antique Automobile Club of American Library, the California Historical Society and PPIE100, to plan and recapture the historical journey.

“The trip has provided the HVA team with a greater appreciation of the development of our national road system and those early pioneers who experienced cross-country travel by automobile,” said Mark Gessler, president of HVA. “The excitement and enthusiasm of all the people we met as we traveled through small cities and towns was a wonderful experience. The smiles, the memories and the Model T stories we heard made this trip very special.”

Throughout the journey the HVA met with historians, heritage specialists, preservationists and academic experts to help trace the origins of the American road trip. Edsel Ford’s trip was extremely well documented with nearly 200 photographs and daily journal entries. The HVA considers it one of the most well documented early American road trips done purely for pleasure. He traveled through developing roads that were deemed drivable at the time. And, for the first time, one could consider a cross-country trip via the automobile.

In recreating Edsel Ford’s journey, the Model T travelled to many historic sites on its way to San Francisco, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, the El Vaquero Harvey House (Dodge City, Kansas), the Summit House at Pikes Peak, the Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park. The HVA followed the National Old Trails Highway route from Detroit to Los Angeles. Portions of the National Old Trails Road later became Route 66.

The entire Road Trip Century Celebration can be viewed at drivehistory.org.