The Automobile Is Here to Stay

North Dakotans Take to the Open Road
December 31, 1911

The Secretary of State announced today that he has issued 7,220 automobile license plates for 1911, the first year that North Dakota has required such registration. According to the Secretary, however, “many owners were dilatory in the matter of registration.” There may be upwards to 10,000 automobiles throughout the state. Most of the horse-less carriages are gasoline-fueled but fourteen steam-powered and six electric autos have been licensed. An astounding 154 car makers are listed. Buick, Ford, and Oldsmobile seem to be the most popular. A few were made right here in North Dakota. Samuel Holland of Park River has made several in his own shop.

Ever since the first automobile appeared in North Dakota on the streets of Grand Forks in 1897, North Dakotans have developed a fond attachment for the new mode of transportation. At first automobiles were curiosity items that drew huge crowds to parades and special celebrations. Not until 1900 did a North Dakotan actually purchase a car. Ed Holinshead, a Fargo drug manufacturer, bought a steam-powered Locomobile. Doctors especially found the automobile to be useful. In 1900 Dr. C. M. Shaneley of Lidgerwood found his steam auto, in his words, “just the thing for getting to a patient in short order.” In that year the city of Chicago had only 400 autos.

Outside and inside look at Haynes’ Studio Car.  Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

By 1902 automobiles appeared throughout North Dakota and quickly had become symbols of progress and prosperity. Town rivalries intensified over which had the most vehicles. Five years later, only the smallest of towns did not have at least one dealership. The coming of the automobile paralleled very good economic times and North Dakotans have had the money to buy the new invention. Two-seat small “runabouts” could be had for as little as $250. At the other end of the price range, banker T.L. Beiseker of Fessenden drives the top-of-the-line Welch at $6,000—an automobile that drew crowds when it was exhibited in Minneapolis.

Outside and inside look at Haynes’ Studio Car.  Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Automobile travel has been and remains difficult, even hazardous. Most roads are glorified horse and buggy trails. When it rains, they become muddy quagmires. Gasoline is often hard to find, although most grocery and drug stores now carry supplies. When it comes to repairs, you are on your own. Roadmaps in this part of the country are nonexistent. Collisions and rollovers on narrow roadways are all too frequent. Some times parts fail, as in the case of Charles Service of Park River. His steering gear locked, sending his auto down an embankment. It fell on Service, crushing him to death. North Dakota’s first traffic fatality. September 4, 1906.

T. L. Beiseker with his $6,000 Welch automobile in front of his mansion in Fessenden.  Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

The problems of motoring, however, have not dampened North Dakotans’ enthusiasm for the automobile and travel. Just three years ago in 1908 Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Andrews of Page left Los Angeles by automobile for Fargo. Only a bridge washout in Montana interfered with the trip. That same year Charles T. Langley left Dickinson for Los Angeles in his Maxwell motor car. He drove the entire 2,000 miles except for some stretches where the roads were impassable. For those short distances, he shipped his auto by railroad.

The automobile is having a decided impact on North Dakota. In a land of big spaces, it is bringing people closer together. And, it is bringing isolated North Dakota closer to the rest of the nation.


By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

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