In the early days of motoring, automobiles were typically possessions of the wealthy. Professional drivers were often employed and many chauffeur organizations existed to advance the profession. This picture appears to show a chauffeur bringing up the family’s 1909 Pope-Hartford somewhere in New Jersey.
In many states around this time, only professional chauffeurs had to obtain operator’s licenses. Up until 1906, New Jersey simply demanded that an automobile owner file with the secretary of state a declaration verified by a notary that he was competent to drive the automobile he desired to register.
With the creation of the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Registration department, New Jersey was one of the first states to license automobile drivers. A New Jersey operator’s license now had to be obtained in person from a state examiner, and the applicant had to make an affidavit on the extent of his driving experience, physical condition and knowledge of the state’s motor-vehicle laws. Our chauffeur pictured here would have been required to have the exhaust cut-out closed while driving in town.
The Pope Manufacturing Company, maker of the Pope-Hartford, was the automotive empire of Colonel Albert Pope (the title is honorary). Before Durant had created General Motors, Pope invested his bicycle wealth in the manufacturing of electric vehicles and entered the automobile business in 1896. Convinced that electric cars were the way to go, Pope was producing just over 2,000 cars by 1899, which were nearly half of all cars produced in the U.S.
Later that same year, Pope sold out to the Electric Vehicle Company, but by 1901, he wanted back into the automobile business, this time with internal-combustion engines. Feverishly acquiring companies, the Colonel built a conglomerate of manufacturers named after the city in which they were manufactured. The longest running of these was the Pope-Hartford (1902-1914) located in Hartford, Connecticut.
By 1909, the Pope-Hartford was a well-regarded and established luxury brand. Building its reputation through contests of endurance as well as factory-sponsored racing, the Pope-Harford had a nationwide network of agents. This four-cylinder, 40-horsepower car would have sold for $2750 with no windshield – a top cost extra. By comparison, the newly introduced Ford Model T (1909 was its first full year of production) retailed for $850 for the touring car. Though not as expensive as a Packard, the purchase of a Pope-Hartford made a statement about your affluence and position in society. It still does.
Albert Pope built a large estate in Hartford and shared his wealth with the community by gifting a large park to the city (Pope Park). In 1909, having been in ill health for a number of years, Pope died in financial ruin. The Colonel was greatly admired in Hartford, thus when he died a collection was taken up to build a memorial fountain in his honor. The fountain still stands in Pope Park.