This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How fast cars went in old-time Phoenix


If you were born anytime after the middle of the 20th century, it's probably very difficult to imagine a world without cars. I have always like cars a lot, and my interest in history has made me wonder what it would have been like seeing one for the very first time in a place that had only known horses, such as Phoenix, Arizona in 1905.

The car I have parked in my garage right now has an engine that produces 140 horsepower and a top speed of 95 miles per hour. It can cruise easily for hours at 75 miles per hour. And if you're thinking, well, that's no big deal, that's my point.

Cars, or automobiles, were first referred to as "horseless carriages". The power of a horse, although a pretty crude estimate, is how engine power was estimated from the beginning. And if you've ever stood next to a real, live horse, you know that these animals are powerful. So, an engine that could produce the power of a horse was pretty impressive. Yeah, one horsepower.

When you look at old photos and see horses pulling carts or trolleys, you are seeing the pace of a walking horse, which is, like people, about 2 to 4 miles per hour. Adding additional horses to a wagon wasn't really about making it go faster, it was really about pulling heavier loads. Of course, if you had enough horses attached to a lightweight vehicle, like a stagecoach, you could move along pretty good. Not as fast as a racehorse, which can do up to 40 miles per hour, but definitely more than 2 miles per hour. But most of the time, especially around town, horses were going 2 - 4 miles per hour.

So the car that you see in the photo above is traveling at about the speed of a horse, possibly a little faster, 4 to 8 miles per hour. That is not to say that the car couldn't go faster, but it would have needed a much smoother surface that the old streets in Phoenix could provide.

Image at the top of this post: The Adams Hotel in 1905, Central Avenue and Adams, Phoenix, Arizona.


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