Zebulon pulled alongside Willie and the two exchanged pleasantries. They took turns speaking about their work, their families, and made other small talk. All the while, Willie peered uneasily at the Stanley Steamer. He was cautious but curious. As with a steam train, Willie understood that the boiler in a steam-powered car could explode if the steam built up too much pressure. Naturally, the focus of their conversation turned entirely to the rare car. Finally, partly out of politeness and partly to give Willie the rare opportunity to ride in a Stanley Steamer, Zebulon offered Willie a ride.
Willie smiled uncomfortably, thanked Zebulon, but politely declined. Maybe another time. Zebulon could see that Willie was still curious. He asked again. This time, Willie was slower to say no. Willie walked around the car and asked what this part did and how that part worked – questions any of us might ask if we saw one in person. Zebulon knew Willie was hooked. He asked Willie again and, this time, Willie accepted. Willie stepped into the passenger seat and the two men set off.
The car hissed away from the curb. Willie was uptight and nervous as the Stanley Steamer gained speed. His whole body, like his grip on the seat, tightened each time the car’s narrow tires hit a bump. The longer they rode, the more relaxed Willie became. Finally, Willie was enjoying the ride. Well, until someone on a bicycle pulled directly into the path of the Stanley Steamer. The brakes on the Stanley Steamer lacked the stopping power of a modern car. Zebulon jerked the wheel. Willie’s grip tightened once more. Onlookers gasped in expectation of a serious accident. To everyone’s relief, especially the bicycle rider’s, the Stanley Steamer narrowly missed the bicycle. A short time later, Zebulon dropped Willie off to continue his walk. They said their goodbyes and Zebulon’s car hissed as it sped away.
At 58 years old, Willie finally rode in his first Stanley Steamer automobile. For the entirety of his life to that point, Willie had avoided riding in any automobile. Willie’s first ride in an automobile made history, and not just for him personally. The date was July 13, 1901… the date William “Willie” McKinley became the first President of the United States to ride in an automobile.
Source: The Kansas City Times, July 15, 1901, p.1.
To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE