New Car Smell
Ever wonder what "new car smell" was like back when cars were, well, actually new to the world?
Only the wealthiest Pittsburghers owned automobiles at first. Although demand expanded and cars were soon made in the Western Pennsylvania region, buying a car at the turn of the last century was complicated. If you wanted the best -- and of course you wanted the best -- you ordered your Mercedes shipped from France, along with a chauffeur/mechanic to drive and maintain it. Elite car owners had staff to care for their cars just as they had coachmen and groomsmen for their horses and carriages. Pittsburghers began acquiring cars by at least 1899, and no doubt competed with one another for the fanciest set of wheels.
Henry Clay Frick wasn't about to be left in anyone's dust. He got a whiff of new car smell on 28 January 1902 when he took delivery of two Mercedes at his Clayton home (now part of The Frick Pittsburgh ). These were described in press reports as 18-24 horsepower and 40-45 horsepower vehicles. Frick reportedly coughed up $15000 (roughly $350000 today) for the cars, plus shipping from France.
They were accompanied by company agent C.L. Charley, who took them out for a test drive around Da Burgh sans Mr. Frick, who thought the January weather rather too nippy for an open-vehicle spin. But by May of that year, the newspapers were reporting about the "go-devil of Mr. Frick...well-recognized around the city and in the parks as a 40-mile flyer" being driven around Schenley Park by his chauffeur Georges Després. And judging from a subsequent Press editorial, Pittsburghers had cause to be alarmed by the proliferation of reckless rich men careening about in their horseless carriages.
Over the next decade, Henry Clay Frick would buy a total of five Mercedes (either entirely new or replacement bodies). The photo below shows one of them, although likely not the one described in the news article from January 1902.