Motorists Helping Motorists: Wilson and AAA

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Gifted to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library by his widow Edith Wilson, the Pierce Arrow limousine reflects how this man tasked with guiding a nation through a world war spent his leisure time. The Pierce Arrow was only the 120th of the Series 51 model manufactured by the Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company of Buffalo New York in the summer of 1919. Woodrow Wilson instantly became attached to the car, so much so that upon his departure from the White House in 1921 friends of the former president purchased the car so that Wilson could continue to use it until his death in 1924. Unique to Woodrow Wilson’s presidential transportation was an emblem proudly bolted to the front of the car never before used by a president. Metallic in color and dawning three large A’s, the ornament attached to the front of the car was the symbol for membership to the American Automobile Association. Woodrow Wilson was the first president to be a member to the now 54 million person automotive association.

P1050026 P1050023Established in 1902, the American Automotive Association or AAA began as a loosely networked organization of automobile clubs. Unlike the roadside assistance by telephone and monthly magazine of today, AAA humbly began as an association of drivers dedicated to assisting each other in need. With no hotline to call nor phone to call it, an emblem on the front of one’s car indicated a dedication toward preserving the safety of roadway travel, a new frontier for the time. AAA also played a crucial role in the transition of roads in the United States from being designed for horses to automobiles. In 1916, AAA and Woodrow Wilson made a major stride for motorists with the passing of a bill providing federal aid to highways around the country. Proudly displaying the AAA emblem on the front of his favorite car, Woodrow Wilson provided the executive endorsement needed to transcend the transportation network in America into an automotive age.

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