The first horseless carriage to run on the streets of Bloomington was constructed by Joshua O. Howe sometime between 1896 and 1906. In his day, Howe was one of the best mechanics in Bloomington. He also conducted a jewelry store on the square, kept the old courthouse clock in running order, constructed and ran a steamboat on Bloomington’s first waterworks lake, and was the engineer on Bloomington’s various steam fire engines
When Haynes, Apperson and Ford began building their first machines, Howe decided he would make one of his own. He had no model to go by, could buy no auto parts, so the entire machine had to be assembled in Bloomington, much of it in the back room of his jewelry store. The engine was the most vital part, and it was made in the Seward Foundry.
After several months of work, Howe’s machine was ready for use. The first time he took it on the street, horses were so frightened by the noise that he found it necessary to come to a full stop, shut down the engine and allow the horses to be led past by hand. Even then they tried to climb the telephone poles or ran for the nearest front porch while the ladies gathered their billowing skirts and launched themselves from their buggies.
Howe, being very civic minded, then kept his carriage off the streets in the daytime and used it only at night. After the last beau had dropped off his best girl and returned the carriage to the livery stable, Howe could be heard put-put-putting around the streets.
Howe used his horseless carriage for two or three years before replacing it with a Winton. Nevertheless, Bloomington’s first car was kept as a relic by Louis Howe, J. O.’s son, on South College Avenue. It is now part of the Mathers Museum collection.
Sources: Unsourced and undated item from “Old Bloomington” in the Fred Lockwood scrapbook, Monroe County History Center; Bloomington Daily Herald Telephone, June 7, 1955, p. 1; and Bloomington Herald Times, October 30, 2010.
Post Submitted by Randi Richardson (Library Volunteer)