Tells of Early-Day Activities in the Auto Field
Nowadays nearly everyone owns an automobile. The devilish contraption of only a few
years ago has won a place in the hearts of the American people. We are a fast-
This splendid showing is the result of twenty years of education of the automobile owner on the part of the insurance man, and it will be my providence to relate a few of my experiences in educating the public of twenty years ago in the rudiments of automobile insurance.
The first road signs in the State of California were put up by your humble servant, who at
the time was manager of the automobile department of the Firemans Fund at San
Francisco. The company would ascertain when automobile picnic parties
The first automobile show ever held in San Francisco was staged at the old Coliseum in 1907. The Firemans Fund had a booth at the show advertising automobile insurance, and it was my duty to invite the visitors into the booth, assign them an easy chair in which to rest their weary limbs after their pleasant, but tiresome task of inspecting the snappy 1908 models offered by the local dealers. In addition the company, through its automobile department, was instrumental in organizing endurance runs, hill climbs and road races.
In 1908 the first hill climb contest in San Francisco was staged over the Nineteenth Avenue
hill, from Sloat Boulevard to the crest of the hill, a distance of approximately
A favorite stunt of the old timers was holding of endurance runs over the
The writer was the first special agent to travel the California field in an automobile. The car, purchased for me in 1902 by the Firemans Fund, was a Stevens Duryea, Stanhope type, with the crank and engine under the front seat, and steered by a lever. My field was the central part of the state and I certainly had some remarkable experiences with that machine, which although it was advertised built like a watch could NOT be repaired by a jeweler. The machine had two speeds, forward and reverse, and the shifting of the car operated on a cam. Everything went fine until the cam nuts loosened, when the services of a blacksmith became necessary.
There were no garages in 1902 and it was difficult to get gasoline, which could be
purchased in drug stores for 60 cents a gallon. If there was no drug store handy, a
hardware or paint store could furnish the precious fluid, except that the latter would
sometimes sell you benzine for gasoline. It was the custom to carry two five-
It was not until 1913 that the first embezzlement insurance protecting the dealers interest in the car was written in California. In that year A.D. Plughoff of the Leavitt Company informed me that his firm had taken over the agency for the Overland and that it was their intention to sell a great volume of machines. In order to do this, he continued, it would be necessary to sell on the installment plan, and he wanted to know how the cars could be insured so as to protect the dealer. The cars were to be sold on the lease contract plan and when payments were completed the buyer would receive the bill of sale. After considering the matter, I suggested that inasmuch as the theft clause of the policy was so worded to protect the insured against theft by any person other than in his household or employ, theft by the lessor (purchaser) would be covered, but that it would be necesssary that the policy be written in the name of the lessee, who had the title to the car. The lessor, even though legally paying rent for the car had an equity, nevertheless, so that the lessors title was not sole and unconditional ownership. A lease contract rider was then attached to the policy, stating that the automobile was purchased under lease contract and protecting the dealer against theft by the lessee. There was no additional premium for this protection and the news of the novel form of insurance spread like wildfire.
In a week my company received wires from Overland dealers all over the United States, asking for similar protection. It was then that this form of rider became used on the coast. It never was used east of the Rockies. Several years later, when all automobile dealers adopted the time sales plan the present conditional sales contract was introduced. It was then that the companies writing the business felt an increased hazard and made a flat charge of $1 on new cars and $2 on used cars, when in later years was increased to the present rates.
San Francisco News Letter
September 5, 1925