Published: Dec. 1, 2015 By

1902 Columbia steam surrey

The Car Comes to Campus

The automobile age arrived in Boulder in October 1900, when a visitor rumbled through town on the way to nearby Magnolia. Not everyone was ready for it.

“I certainly got a lot of ‘cussing out’ when I got that car,” said Sawyer Clark, a Boulder blacksmith who soon afterward bought one for himself and became the city’s first car dealer.

But the auto was here to stay. In 1901 Charles Culbertson, manager of the Colorado and Northwestern Railroad, became the proud owner of Boulder’s first automobile, a 1901 Locomobile Steam Runabout.

Within a year, Clark and two other local men also had bought cars, including Andrew Macky, one of CU’s earliest major benefactors.

The buyers enhanced their own prestige, and demonstrated their courage, by driving the newfangled contraptions on streets dominated by horses and wagons.

Still, many Boulder citizens worried for their own safety and that of their horses. In 1904 the city enacted laws that included a speed limit of 6 miles per hour and required vehicle registration.

Macky, the fourth Boulder citizen to get a car, became the first to register one, a 1902 Columbia steam surrey (photo above). On Feb. 29, 1904, he chose license plate number 111.

The next year Henry “Harry” Gamble (Law 1897) became the first CU alumnus to register a car in town. The football captain turned lawyer and judge bought a 1904 White Sewing Machine Co. steam touring car — perhaps the fruit of a partnership with Fred Folsom (Law 1899).

CU’s first faculty member with a car was William Duane, head of the physics department, who registered his 1904 Peerless Motor gasoline touring car in 1906. He appears to have enjoyed travel: His outings to Loveland and Estes Park, long hauls then, were often reported in the newspapers.

It wasn’t until 1911 that a CU president got a car. President James Baker personally registered his 1910 blue Buick touring car in 1911. Students took notice — calling him “aristocratic” in the pages of the Silver & Gold paper because he “had an automobile standing in front of his house all afternoon.”

Baker’s five-seat Buick cost around $1,750 in 1910 — about $44,000 today.

Image courtesty Archives, University of Colorado Boulder Libraries/University of Colorado Museum Photograph Collection