Throwback Thursday photo: a Grand Canyon road trip in 1902

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), 1902.

 Credit: Grand Canyon National Park, flickr.

The first-ever automobile party to reach the Grand Canyon arrives after a days-long trip from Flagstaff.

In 1902, when this photo was taken, the most majestic canyon on earth had not yet been protected as a national park (though President Benjamin Harrison had named it a forest reserve in 1893). It was, relative to later fame, somewhat obscure. But the Grand Canyon still commanded the imagination of many Americans. In 1919, the year when the area was protected as a national park, about 44,000 visitors made the trek. Now it receives about 5 million visitors each year.

The first-ever automobile party to arrive at the Grand Canyon rode in a ten-horsepower steam vehicle from Flagstaff, aiming to demonstrate the feasibility of “the establishment of a line of steam locomobiles to run between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon,” according to a contemporary newspaper story.

While the trip might have seemed comparatively swift to Oliver Lippincott, the driver, and his carpool mates (two journalists and a guide), it took much longer than they originally anticipated. A journey that was supposed to take between three hours and one day—accounts vary—ultimately stretched out to several days due to “break-downs and mishaps.” One of the journalists, Winfield Hogaboom, later wrote that he mistook a pine cone for an attacking bear while hallucinating en route. The return trip reportedly went more smoothly.

In 1921, less than two decades after the first automobile trip to the Grand Canyon, cars were no longer a rare sight in the park. Credit: Grand Canyon National Park, flickr.

More technologically advanced—and much larger—cars line up to enter Grand Canyon National Park in 1951. Credit: Grand Canyon National Park, flickr.

Learn more about the first road trip to the Grand Canyon

Learn more about how Grand Canyon National Park was born