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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The Curious Curator – Hot Wheels! Sweet Ride!


Brian-Ogg-DSC_5596The 1931 Centennial History of Naperville timeline records that on May 2, 1900, “Denizens along Water Street were surprised yesterday to see a horseless carriage pass rapidly along that thoroughfare, cross the stone bridge and disappear.  An hour afterwards it returned, rushed up the slight incline, and proceeded eastward.  A man and a woman occupied the vehicle.  It was the first appearance of an automobile in Naperville, and evidently a trial trip between Chicago and Aurora was being made.”  Five years later, Dr. W. J. Truitt had a picture taken with his 1903 Oldsmobile, proclaimed “Naperville’s First Automobile.”  A working reproduction of this car was donated to the Naperville Heritage Society by members of the Wehrli family.

A new documentary about Naperville’s automotive past will be produced by Naperville Community Television-Channel 17 and the Naperville Heritage Society.  Production is scheduled to begin this summer.  The documentary will highlight the golden age of sales and service of the automobile in downtown Naperville, roughly 1947 to 1980.  Naperville’s love affair with cars and the open road is a major theme in American post-WWII culture.

A culture of freedom, adventure, and pride was created by affordable cars.  Slick designs, brand loyalty and prosperity guided people’s choices for their new car.  New cars were rolled into dealership showrooms under cover and unveilings were considered a family outing.  Hoards of people flocked to downtown Naperville to see a new model.

Hundreds of people in Naperville were employed by the automobile industry and its service providers.  The blacksmith shops, carriage and wagon works which supported the community’s farm and city lives were replaced by car dealerships, gas pumps, garages, and repair shops.  As roads improved, Naperville was linked more efficiently with other communities and the ebb and flow of the commuter, shopper and tourist to downtown Naperville never ceased.

Readers of Positively Naperville are encouraged to contact me at Naper Settlement as we collect stories, pictures and material to help produce and preserve Naperville’s sweet ride!

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Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg is a local historian and curator of local legend, stories and lore.