May 2, 1903
The automobile era kicks off in Minnesota as a Packard in St. Paul receives license number 1. St. Paul’s first automobile fatality occurs just weeks later when a child is hit on Selby Avenue between Dale and St. Albans streets.** The city’s first automatic traffic signal lights up 20 years later; it stands on a ten-foot-tall pedestal at the intersection of Fifth and St. Peter streets.*
Why is it that we take delight in travel, exploration, and pure speed, Lord? Let’s think about the progression a little. Human beings have used their legs for eons, then the legs of various animals, and next the vehicles of their own invention: boats, carts, sleds, etc. Soon, we figured out mechanical means to augment our human, wind, or animal-powered vehicles with the refinement of the steam engine. Eventually the limitations of that power pushed us to adopt the internal combustion engine. Now we are in the era of fuel cell engines, and the dawning of practical electrical-powered vehicles.
Again, moving around the wheel, full circle; why do we want or need to move faster, farther, on less fuel? Why is it that the human creature wants to explore its habitat, which is natural, but then push far past the limitations of its home? Are there examples in the animal kingdom of creatures that explore out of curiosity rather than as a means of survival? A dog will happily sniff the scents of Lake Superior if it has never visited it, but will it long to cross it and see the other side?
Or do we long to see that other side because of discontent? We may not appreciate or flourish in our current environment, and we wonder “ Is there a greener pasture out there somewhere?” Perhaps it’s boredom? We adopt routines that shape how we use time, but break with them in varying degrees dependent on our personalities and discipline. We feel the impulse to stop the cycle of repetition.
Regardless of our motives, I thank You for the gift of the automobile. I thank you for the day of May 2, 1903 and the willingness of the owner of the first car in Minnesota to explore a new mode of transportation. Thank you for the gift of the freedom to travel, and how that travel has benefitted generations of our state. Thank you for all the goods and services we access because the automobile led to the truck. Thank you for the imaginations of individuals like Etienne Lenoir, Niklaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, Karl Benz, James Atkinson, Edward Butler, and Rudolf Diesel!
*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
**See how far we’ve come in terms of safety over the past 115 years? http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/exhibition/exhibition_8_2.html