Re-creation of A-Y-P transcontinental auto race is celebrated in Seattle on June 23, 1959.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 8/13/2007
  • Essay 8253
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On June 23, 1959, a caravan of Ford automobiles, led by a vintage Model T, arrives in Seattle on the anniversary of the first transcontinental race, held 50 years earlier in conjunction with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The modern event coincides with groundbreaking ceremonies for part of the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle’s second World’s Fair.

Built by Ford 

The original race ended on June 23, 1909, 23 days after six automobiles left New York. The Model T Ford arrived first but was disqualified because the drivers changed an axle during the race. The winner (the second to arrive) was a Shawmut. One of the greatest challenges along the route was traversing Snoqualmie Pass.

Fifty years and a network of paved highways later, the cars had no trouble traveling coast to coast. In the original race, gas had to be sent ahead by rail, but in 1959 there were plenty of gas stations to fill up at along the way. Driver Bill Stroppe did mention that the Model T had to be packed up and trucked once or twice when it rained, since the vintage antique had no top.

The 1959 race was sponsored by the Ford Motor Co., and little mention was made that a Ford car didn’t win the 1909 race. Other cars in the 1959 caravan included Ford’s 50,000,000th automobile, various antique autos, and the Levacar, an experimental hovercraft that rode on compressed air. The Levacar did not travel the route under its own power.

From Race to Space

The caravan arrived in the morning in front of the County-City building in downtown Seattle, and was greeted by Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011). The vehicles then traveled by parade to the Century 21 fairgrounds for a groundbreaking ceremony at the corner of 3rd Avenue N and Mercer Street. As the cars crossed a finish line in front of the Civic Center, 79-year-old Henry Broderick waved a checkered flag. Broderick was a board member of both the A-Y-P and Century 21 expositions.

Speeches were given by Mayor Clinton, Governor Al Rosellini (1910-2011), and William Clay Ford, the motor company’s vice president and grandson to Henry Ford. Also on hand was Joe Gandy, a Ford dealer, who would later become president of the Century 21 Exposition. Another invited guest was Jack Scott, the son of Bert Scott, who drove the winning car in 1909. 

To end the event, ground was broken to begin construction of what was then called the State Building, but which later became the Fine Arts Pavilion. In keeping with the futuristic aspects of Century 21, a handful of dirt was placed in a small rocket, which Governor Rosellini then fired off into the sky.

Sources: “Century 21 Cranked Up by Mayor in Celebration,” The Seattle Times, June 23, 1959; “Cars, Rocket Blast Off ‘21’ Building,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 24, 1959.

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