This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Owning a car in territorial Phoenix


I love having a car and living in Phoenix. The car I own now is smooth and quiet, and best of all it has some awesome air conditioning! I push a button, my garage door opens, and before I've gone more than a block, no matter how hot it is out there, my little "technology bubble" is keeping me comfortable. And did I mention that it has an awesome sound system, too?

With this point of view, I've had a lot of trouble picturing owning a car in territorial Phoenix, right after the turn of the century, say from 1902 to 1912. But I think I'm figuring it out. It was a transitional time from relying on horses to relying on machines, and it must have been kinda crazy.

I like technology. I'm an early adopter. My career grew up with computers. I've used them at work and at home, so to me they're kind of like cars. It's hard for me to imagine a world without them, or people who don't like them. But comparing computers to cars helps me to understand.

Let's face it, in 1902 you would have had to have been pretty crazy to put up with the hassle and expense of owning a car in Phoenix. Horses were plentiful, and there were a lot of people who knew how to care for them. Yes, they required maintenance, but mostly you put hay in one end, and cleaned up what came out the other end. There were no gears, or machinery to fiddle with. And when I look back on those days I just wonder why people put up with cars. They broke down all of the time, there were no gas stations, and in order to even drive them around a bit, you had to be pretty much of a mechanic yourself, and you had to rely heavily on mechanics, and machine shops. Google the song "Get out and get under" if you want to know how unreliable cars were, and how funny it must have been to people who watched them go by, break down, start up again, break down, etc.

And the noise must have been horrific! The tiny engines of those cars had no mufflers, no pollution controls. The sound of the backfires must have sounded like gunfire on the streets of Phoenix. If you've ever been to a car show of old cars, you know what I mean. Noise and belching black smoke. It must have made the old-timers crazy. Get a horse!


Automotive technology existed alongside of horse and buggies in Phoenix for a very long time, the way that some people still have land lines along with their cellphones nowadays. You can also compare it to digital music and vinyl records nowadays. Sometimes an old technology is kinda nice.

Yeah, automobiles won out. There are a lot of them in Phoenix. And nowadays it's hard to imagine how awful it was back in the day. But the next time you drive up Central Avenue north of Bethany Home Road, take a look at the "old technology" walking by on the bridal trail. And get a horse.


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