His Equestrian Habits Hobbled Demand For Cars In Washington, DC
Theodore Roosevelt loved horses, but that was not what carmakers at the start of the 20th century wanted. It was a time when demand for cars was booming in New York, Chicago and Boston, but in Washington, DC, the smart set were stabling their autos to go horse riding like the new President.
To carmakers and their dealers, it was a wasted opportunity. Washington had everything to become the car capital of America. Moneyed people and an “unbroken system of asphalt streets” made it ideal for cars. The only hurdle was the President, who declared: “The Roosevelts are horse people.”
“President and Mrs Roosevelt are blamed for the flagging of interest, for there has been a perceptible decrease in the ardour since they have been at the White House. Both are enthusiastic equestrians, and they set the style in outdoor exercise just the same as they do indoors. The smart set has stored away its automobiles and resumed the saddle,” notes a journal of the time.
We learn that New York senator Chauncey M Depew was among the few notables frequently seen in a car at the time. Mrs Depew “is about the only woman of the ultra fashionable set who manages her own machine. She has an electric runabout, and she takes the senator to the Capitol every pleasant day… The Countess Cassini, Miss Root and Miss Wetmore all have autos, but they seldom use them as compared with the number of times they are seen on their horses.”
Roosevelt’s routine affected the town life also. Before he arrived, “morning rides were the fad,” but because he seldom left the White House before late afternoon, “a stylishly dressed equestrian is a rare sight in the vicinity of Washington before four o’ clock.”
Routes changed along with the routines. “President Roosevelt seldom rides on the conduit road or in the parks, and the fashionables, following his example, have abandoned these old-time favourite rides, and make across the river to the Virginia country roads.”
Auto dealers watched this daily horse parade with dismay. They tried in vain to have “the President give their business a boom by using a machine, but up to date he has refused.”
By their calculation, Roosevelt was a big dampener on the car business: “there would be twice the number of autos on the streets of Washington there are now if the President would set the fashion.”