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Columns

April 7, 2012

Oneonta's first automobile exhibition took place in April 1917

An automobile show as large as those in Albany or Utica. That was the heady claim of the organizers of Oneonta's first such show, set for early April 1917.

The numerous auto dealers in Oneonta made plans to exhibit at the show, held at the State Armory, today's Asa C. Allison Municipal Building on Academy Street, on April 4, 5 and 6. The dealers brought in John Kelly, of Philadelphia, Pa., who had charge of auto shows all over the country, to manage this debut show for Oneonta.

The dealers' aim was to impress, and The Oneonta Star reported on March 28 how, "The hall will … be beautifully decorated with floral designs, with over $500 expended on the decorations alone."

As the show grew closer, it was reported on Tuesday, April 2, that when the doors opened on Thursday, 20 makes of cars and 45 models would be on display, representing a value of $100,000.

"When one considers that the city of Oneonta the dealers can put on a show where the prospective buyer can inspect 45 models of the latest and best cars for the money there certainly remains no good reason for going miles away to visit an automobile show," the Star reported. While the show was primarily for viewing and possibly purchasing automobiles, the Armory also became a place to socialize.

"Gardner's orchestra will furnish music for the show and dancing, to permit the latter, a portion of the floor being reserved, and the young people are assured of a good time."

Another feature of the show was a noted giveaway for a prize, a Victrola, which was big for the time, as this "talking machine," a record player as most of us recall, sold for between $200 to $300 at that time. The Victrola was on display throughout the show.

Opening day, which was Thursday evening, was a success.

"The attendance last evening," the Star reported on Friday, April 6, "considering the weather and it being the first night was large and all spectators were quite enthusiastic in approval of the show. Unfortunately the decorations, which Mr. Kelly had assurances they were shipped several days ago by express, have not arrived, and a determined effort is being made to locate them with a possibility they have gone to Oneida or some other similar place. It is hoped they will arrive today. However with the aid of bunting and national colors, the interior has been made attractive."

The entire city of Oneonta was decorated with national colors, ever since President Woodrow Wilson had asked Congress for declaration of war against Germany that same week. Chances were pretty good a lot of the conversations among people at the auto show had something to do with the U.S. entry into the "Great War."

The Star reported exactly where each dealer was located in the armory. The Francis Motor Sales Co. of Milford and Oneonta got a booth that attracted visitors first. They were the Overland dealer in the area, and The Star said, "The sporty appearance of the new Country Club with wire wheels and four passenger tonneau is conspicuous."

"Unfortunately the Oneonta Sales company has been unable to keep or secure cars for the Show, so that no Fords or Dodges are shown." Oneonta Sales was a car dealership found on Market Street at a couple of locations between 1912 and 997.

The touted decorations finally arrived in Oneonta on Friday night, so those attending the show on Saturday got to see them. While the weather had been less than kind for the duration of the show, attendance was still very good, and dealers said they made several sales and many prospects.

The editor of the Stamford Mirror-Recorder, L.H. DeSilva, was the winner of the Victrola. No definite announcement was made, but it was hoped that the show would become an annual event.

On Monday: New developments in Oneonta education were plentiful in April 1952.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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