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The coming of the automobile had a big effect on society in the County. In the summer of 1901, Fern Arn brought the first automobile to Boonville. By 1915, the automobile began to affect the lives of all County people. There was finally a real need for road building and expansion.


With the popularity of the automobile, people in the county began to develop hard roads to replace the rough and muddy wagon trails. Several road surfaces were used. Gravel roads were made by either scraping off the soil to reveal the underlying gravel, or by bringing gravel in layers and laying it over the smoothed soil.


The speed limit on early roads was usually 12 miles per hour. Motorists often had to stop and make repairs, especially to fix tires that punctured easily on the rough roads.

The automobile had a revolutionary effect on American travel and society


Beginning as a rich man’s plaything in the late 1890’s, with the development of the first gasoline engine, and steam-powered cars, automobiles began to be bought in quantity by the middle class. There were only four registered automobiles in the US in 1895, while in 1915 there were 2.5 million registered automobiles, and by 1930 the annual production had risen to 4.8 million, with six companies doing 90% of the business. The top three were Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.


The first car to be owned in Cooper County belonged Ferd Arn. He was a local Boonville sporting goods owner who specialized in guns and bicycles. In June 1901 he purchased a Willis Grant Murry’s “one lungers”, or as the locals called it, a “devil buggy.” It had a top speed of 16 miles per hour, although it could be geared to run as fast as 30 miles per hour. The car sold for the modest price of $750.


In 1908 Henry Ford developed the assembly line technique and introduced his Model T, which sold for $825. By 1917, the price had dropped to $350.  Farmers on their way to town dreaded meeting Arm and his automobile because it made so much noise it frightened the horses. There was talk of having the city council pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of the car in town.


In 1902 Arn became attracted to the Winton Touring car and began selling them in Boonville. Mr. Arn became an expert in tearing a car apart and building a new one. By 1909 Arn had sold a number of his expensive Winton Touring cars to some of the town’s wealthier citizens, including Charles A. Sombart, who was involved in looking for roads to route the New York to Seattle auto endurance race. Whether it was the introduction of the cheap and popular Model T Ford in the period between 1908 and 1910, or the generally depressed financial situation in Boonville at that time, Arn got into some serious financial trouble by the mid-teens, lost his business and left town.


Arn had ditched his Murry automobile in 1910 and gave the engine to A.K. Wallace, who lived near Lamine. Wallace added a cooling system to the engine (the early engines had no cooling system and often overheated), installed it in a boat that he operated on the Lamine, and thus developed one of the first gasoline motor-powered boats in the area.

Source: Bob Dyer


(1921) The Centennial Road Law was signed into law to improve road conditions in the state.

Courtesy of Missouri Bicentennial Timeline


“Improvements to road conditions became a popular topic of state politics with the rise of automobile purchases in 1917. Before 1907, highway improvements were left entirely to counties, many of which did not have trained engineers. The Centennial Road Law shifted highway building efforts in Missouri from the local level to the state level by granting the State Highway Commission the authority to supervise highways and bridges. In the 1920s and 30s, the commission undertook massive road building projects that improved the highway system and “Get Missouri out of the mud.”  U.S. Highway 40 was the first major highway to be built across Missouri in the 1920s. It came down the main street of Boonville and crossed the Missouri River on a bridge built in 1924.


Today, there are major highways going through Cooper County. Interstate 70 is one of the main highways across the United States. U.S. 50 also comes through Cooper County. It followed the Osage Indian Trail. Both of these highways connect to St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouri’s Highway 5 is a much-used north-south route coming through the center of the county, and is also known as the old Warsaw Road. It goes from the Iowa line to the Arkansas line. It carries a lot of traffic to and from the Lake of the Ozarks. Other state roads in Cooper County are Highways 47, 87, 98, 135, and 179. Many of these highways followed old Indian trails.

Source: Discover Cooper County by Ann Betteridge


The Mitchell Car Museum

Boonville did not manufacture fancy wagons, cars or trucks, but the Mitchell Museum located near the Boonville train depot, has a wonderful showroom of well-preserved Mitchel wagons and automobiles.


Henry Mitchell, originally from Scotland, started his business of wagon making in Kenosha, then Racine Wisconsin, in the early 1830’s. He produced a wide variety of farm wagons, and Urban wagons. By 1890 he was manufacturing 100 wagons per day. By 1900, the “horseless carriage” was replacing the horse and carriage.


Eventually, they were selling vehicles all over the world. You will want to visit this museum for a once in a lifetime look back in history as you view the beautifully resorted cars of yesteryear. For more information call: 660-882-3767

Source: Historically Yours by Elizabeth Davis

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