From 1889: Naming an “unutterably ugly” new-fangled vehicle

Read Lynn J. sent in an interesting bit of American transportation history she heard on The Writer’s Almanac this past Sunday.

Turns out that January 3rd, 1899, the New York Times published an editorial that included the first known usage of the word “automobile”. At that time, says the Almanac, cars were still new and hadn’t yet been mass produced.

Here’s the snip from the New York Times:

“There is something uncanny about these new-fangled vehicles. They are all unutterably ugly and never a one of them has been provided with a good, or even an endurable, name. The French, who are usually orthodox in their etymology if in nothing else, have evolved ‘automobile,’ which, being half Greek and half Latin, is so near to indecent that we print it with hesitation.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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