Treasure Hunting in the Public Domain: Scribner’s Magazine on “The Day of the Motor”

The February 1913 issue of Scribner’s Magazine had a special theme: The Day of the Motor. Along with articles on driving the Pyrenees Route and the mission of the automobile, it includes two very different gems of magazine writing.

The first is a compelling account of “Discovering America by Motor” written by Ralph D. Paine. The author and a companion tour New Hampshire (which he deems “not as backwards as is supposed”) in a car with only 3 of its 4 cylinders working. They encounter various other motor tourists on the way, and Paine contemplates the new freedoms that motor travel has opened up:

The man behind the steering-wheel has become the lord of distances. His horizon has immeasurably widened, the highway is made panoramic and belongs to him, and the satisfaction of living has sensibly increased.

The article is accompanied by grainy photos of automobile tourists all over the country, like the one above. Mostly, though, I was struck by how consistently readable the piece was, like a Longreads article from days of yore.

The second notable piece is “Steam-Coach Days” by Theodore M. R. von Kéler, a weird and wonderful speculation piece that seems straight out of a steampunk novel of this decade. He argues that the idea of a steam-powered engine in a coach-like vehicle has been around since the ancient Egyptians (!):

It is difficult—in fact, almost impossible—now to fix upon the exact year in which the idea of a coach propelled by steam first took shape in the human brain. The most recent discoveries during archaeological investigations and excavations in Egypt and other sections of northern Africa have tended to show that a steampropelled carriage of ingenious construction was, if not actually used, at least built in model form by one of the old Egyptians.

But even better than this wild tidbit are the whimsical drawings depicting steam coaches of all manner and style (all of which apparently actually existed):

Twelve years of Scribner’s Magazine has been made available online for free through the Modernist Journals Project. Further issues are available through Google Books. (I’m kind of obsessed.)

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