Fascinating History Facts, and Why I Love Looking Back

By Dorothy K. Fletcher | Arcadia Author
Dorothy Fletcher might not be the first person you think of when asked to name a car lover, but Dorothy, an English teacher-turned author, has had a love of “wheels” for years. In her new book Jacksonville on Wheels, she details how cars first came to the major Florida city, and helped develop the area into the metropolis it is today. She recently sat down with us to give a taste of what we can expect from her book – read on to learn about some early Floridian car history!

If a person were to go to the center of Downtown Jacksonville, he or she might be surprised by the sound of a loud and commanding “yaba-daba-doo” type whistle. It announces itself four times a day – 7AM , Noon, 1PM, and 5PM – and its loud, long blasts once alerted workers to the significant times of their day: start, lunchtime, back to work time, and quitting time. Today, this whistle is more ceremonial than practical. Presently located at the Water Works at Main Street and First Avenue, this whistle is a constant reminder as to how the world has changed here in Jacksonville, Florida.

Water Works and Electric of Jacksonville, 1900-1910.John Einig invented this whistle in 1896, and named it “Big Jim” for his brother-in-law for reasons we can only guess. But Einig was more than just a whistle inventor: he was the mover and shaker who introduced the automobile to the citizens of Jacksonville in 1889. Even before he had finished assembling it, his automobile was mentioned in the local newspaper, the Florida Times-Unions & Citizen, proving that Jacksonville could hardly wait to be part of the American automobile revolution!

Einig’s plans for his “motor wagon” were so revolutionary that Scientific American magazine published an illustrated description of them for its readers. Sadly, his actual motor wagon earned the nickname of “Einig’s chug-chug machine” from the locals, since it scared the horses and the good ladies of town. His design also provided a most uncomfortable ride, with the steam engine directly under the driver’s seat producing clouds of steamy heat.

Gilbert advertisement in the Times-Union.

Still, Einig’s motor wagon had whet the appetite for those longing for a more modern mode of transport – a mode so revolutionary that within 15 years of its appearance in the newspaper, the workhorse had become history. It wasn’t long after Einig’s motor wagon that Charles A. Clark, an undertaker in Jacksonville, bought a fully assembled “locomobile,” a purchase that was also mentioned in the newspaper. From there, the automotive flood gates were opened, and new industries sprang up very quickly in Jacksonville: tire stores, auto supply stores, fueling stations, rental stores, and dealerships.

Even the Great Fire of 1901, which had destroyed the city in May of that year, had not stemmed the tide of automobile interest. After a time of mourning and rebuilding, Jacksonville again celebrated its Gala Celebration that included a parade with 32 automobiles decked out in flowers, ribbons, and fancy drivers and passengers. Jacksonville had long needed some happy times, and the automobile was going to be part of that happiness.

Gala Celebration, 1903.There were only 3 automobiles in the city at the time of the fire in 1901. By 1906, there were 166 registered automobiles of varying types. Soon, the realization came that there was a need for bridges and improved roads. Areas that had been hard to reach soon became accessible, and citizens were able to stretch their horizons. Before long, the city was practically humming with an exciting, new life-style, one that included motorized transportation for ordinary citizens.

I like to think of those things every time I hear Einig’s whistle. It is a pleasant reminder that history is happening every day, and that the marvels of our generation will be someone else’s curiosity in the future. I suppose that is why I am glad to be here to preserve these types of long lost moments by writing history books, and by celebrating past marvels.

To read more of Dorothy’s work, check out her new book below!
ON SALE Jacksonville on Wheels