No more foreign cars! They’re an abomination and a detriment to our economy … and society at large. Or so said many nearly 110 years ago. No, this wasn’t Trump’s America, it was the land of Roosevelt and Taft.
Below is a great quote from an article we dug up in The Baltimore Sun, published on May 24th, 1909 in an opinion piece aptly titles “The Senate Rises Against the Terrible Automobile.”
Shall the automobile be allowed to go rushing across the country, seeking whom it may devour? Shall the horses of country voters be scared, their wagons smashed into splinters and farmers scattered broadcast over the highways? Shall death and destruction fill the country roads that were once the dwelling places of peace and innocence? Shall these horrible engines of destruction be allowed to devastate our country and lay waste the land of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt?
How great is the hyperbole? “Horrible engines of destruction.” The author is most likely referring to the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, named for Senator Aldrich (R-RI) and Representative Payne (R-NY).
The piece continues.
In order to protect the farmer and the citizen who has to walk, the Senate sternly imposes a tariff of 50 per cent on foreign automobiles. That leaves only 11,207 factories in this country to build these terrifying machines. And they build the biggest, the best, and the fastest on earth.
But the Senators are fanatical in their opposition to the motorcar. The very sight of one rouses them to rage.
The fierce attacks on the automobile the Senate were so prolonged that the 94 chauffeurs outside the Capitol waited wearily, and the Senators were so tired out by their noble and patriotic struggle against the hated machines that when they climbed into their $5,000 automobiles they almost broke the speed record rushing through the streets of Washington on their way to their humble little homes.
Things change and things stay the same. Ho hum.
By the way, $5,000 then is the equivalent of about $135,000 today, or the cost of a pretty nice Tesla.
The President’s 40-horsepower White Model M steam-powered touring car. March 1909. Photographed on the White House grounds in the early days of the Taft administration. In the back is the State Department, now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. George Grantham Bain Collection.