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Automobiles in Lowell

The Early Automobile in Lowell:
     Marketing the Machine
          1896 to 1936

An Exhibit by the Lowell Historical Society

       Winner Louis Strang

Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center
40 French Street, Lowell, Massachusetts
May 15 through October 15, 1998

     While Lowell was one of the first planned cities laid out in the United States, much of its haphazard development after the 1830's was due to economics, demographics, and the general trend of laissez faire urban design. The introduction of the automobile to Lowell brought a major impact to the densely settled city.

     Traditional transportation now had to compete with much faster mechanical counterparts and the pace of city life hastened. Open spaces on residential properties were transformed into anchorage's for autos, while use of Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway trolleys, and later buses fell off.

     With the creation of reliable autos, the population from the original core neighborhoods spread farther into the outlying sections of Pawtucketville, South Lowell and the Westlands, and also into the suburbs such as Dracut, Billerica and Tewksbury. The spatial regionalization of Lowell rendered the decline of the downtown mercantile monopoly as strip malls eventually eclipsed the traditional shopping areas. 

     Industries and businesses appeared in Spindle City, which manufactured, sold and repaired autos. The number of Lowell garages jumped from 4 in 1910 to 31 by 1940. Auto merchants like Dan O'Dea, George Dana and Ester Castle (the first woman dealer in New England) became well known symbols of the business.

     The impact of cars not only affected Lowell's social and commercial life, it also catalyzed Mill City into bringing about change in its governmental policies. The defining influence of the car helped contribute to the creation of the 1926 citywide zoning ordinance, as well as the urban renewal programs of the 1950's and 1960's. The 1972 City Council vote against the extension of the Lowell Connector highway through the South End neighborhood was perhaps the high water mark of the city's struggle in accommodating the car. 

     The catapulting of the car into prominence as a cultural and political focal point for Lowell and even for the nation had in great part to do with a calculated effort of several local residents. Noted Lowellians were active in "marketing the machine". They helped foster an acceptance of the automobile and were strong advocates towards making cars the primary method of transportation.

     While standard sales methods conversely focused on the individualism of the male driver and the essentials of family oriented transportation involving women consumers, grander schemes evolved. Included in this brochure are essays which highlight two of the most effective Lowell based promotional campaigns for automobiles.

     Charles and Lucy Glidden of Spindle City were the first to travel around the globe in an auto. The Lowell couple were also major sponsors of the Glidden Reliability Tours held from 1905 to 1913, and which endorsed dependability in cars and in the upkeep of roadways that auto drivers used. The Great Races of 1908 and 1909 were organized by the Lowell Automobile Club and were impressive entertainment to the hundreds of thousands who came as spectators. The Races were also a marketing strategy upon prospective car consumers and an attempt to attract the auto industry in establishing business in the city.

     Through the efforts of interested pioneers such as the Gliddens, Butler Ames and John Heinze, the automobile came to dominate much of the urban landscape in Lowell and throughout the nation. Much of what we accept as commonplace today is only due to the careful patronage and promotion by Lowellians of an invention that had to be proven to society.
    The exhibit from which this brochure evolved  would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and organizations. The Lowell Historical Society wishes to thank the donors and volunteers including:


The Borriello Family  Elsa Pombeiro
Adele Cooper  Andrew Price
Doug Crose Shirley Rathbun
Stephanie Donahue Matt Rose
Paul Dunigan  Pat Rowe
Guy LeFebvre  Sandy Shepherd
Janet Pohl  The Sullivan Family
George Poirier Janine Whitcomb

Exhibit sponsors were the Lowell Cultural Council and the Lowell National Historical Park. The exhibit team was comprised of Mehmed Ali, Raymond Hoag, Martha Mayo and Barbara Reed.

Charles Glidden (left) ballooning


Charles and Lucy Glidden in London

Charles and Lucy Glidden
Charles and Lucy Glidden leaving Boston, MA