Simanaitis Says

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IT WAS A LITTLE MORE than a century ago that a newly named Society of Automotive Engineers emerged from supporting U.S. efforts in World War I. Founded in 1905 as the Society of Automobile Engineers, its name change in February 1917 coined a new term, “Automotive,”  suggested by member Elmer Sperry, later known as the “father of modern navigation technology.” 

Excerpts of the Automobile Trade Journal, July 1, 1919, came my way through the kindness of SimanaitisSays reader Nick Nicaise, proprietor of Monza Associates, a source of neat vintage advertisements and collectibles. Nick knew of my SAE background and figured I’d find good tidbit material in the organization’s post-WWI goings-on. 

Nick was spot-on in this regards. Indeed, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, here are tidbits gleaned from this particular journal. Today is devoted to social aspects of the meeting. Tomorrow we’ll get technical.

Ottawa Beach, Michigan, June 1919. Members met at the Hotel Ottawa in Ottawa Beach, just west of Grand Rapids on Lake Michigan. So popular was the gathering that overflow accommodations were set at the Waukazoo Inn, with S.A.E. motor ferries provided transportation to and from the meetings. 

These, the following images, and captions from Automobile Trade Journal, July 1, 1919.

A Good Time Had By All. “In general,” the journal reported, “the practice followed at former meetings of the S. A. E. was followed again this year, in that the professional sessions were all held in the mornings so that the afternoons were free for sports and recreation, the evenings being devoted principally to illustrated lectures on various semi-technical or popular subjects of interest to the membership. In addition, there was dancing and other entertainment at the close of each evening.”

Above, “On the Veranda,” the journal noted, “Where the Men Talked Business (?) and the Ladies Played Cards.” Below, “Striped Umbrellas and Bathing Suits Helped to Make the Beach Attractive—to the Ladies.”

Modern SAE International, Take Note. I recall day-long technical sessions at SAE meetings, with evening entertainment focussed on informal poker games of the attending journalists. Or maybe I was merely hanging with the wrong crowd.

A Sporting Crowd. “Numerous sporting contests,” the journal reported, “were held during the afternoons, these including baseball, golf, tennis, trap shooting, races, etc., for the men, and golf, tennis and croquet games and races for the ladies.”

“Sports of All Kinds Played a Prominent Part at the S. A. E. Summer Meeting at Ottawa Beach, Mich.”

“In addition,” the journal recounted, “there were bridge and five hundred parties [the latter, the card game, not the count of get-togethers], dancing contests and costume parades, so that there was no lack of entertainment for everybody. Prizes for the various contests, athletic and otherwise, were purchased from a fund provided through the generosity of a number of manufacturers represented at the meeting.”

“The total attendance of members and guests at this summer’s meeting was in the neighborhood of 1,000,” the journal reported. A timeline at the SAE International Wikipedia entry says that membership in 1919 exceeded 4300, so it was a goodly turnout.

“The Indiana Indians and Some Others. Big Chief Moskovics and his band, who were very much in evidence on many occasions and added piquancy to the events.”

Some may recall that Fred Moskovics became president of Stutz Motor Company in 1925. Others may remember him as the guiding light in establishing the Los Angeles Motordrome, the Playa del Rey, California, wood board race track opened in 1910. 

By the way, on August 11, 1913, a fire destroyed the track and prompted sports columnist Damon Runyon to write one of his greatest lines: “Playa del Rey burned last night with a great savings of lives.” 

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see that the Society of Automotive Engineers’ summer 1919 meeting wasn’t all fun and games. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

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