The Bowery Boys website, dedicated to New York City History, has provided additional detail on the most unusual vehicle at the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race, the "Thermos The Bottle" Truck. (Photo courtesy of the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums- Cedarmere).
The invention of the vacuum flask in 1892 (by Scottish chemist Sir James Dewar) does not rank high among mankind's most remarkable inventions, but its longevity relies on being a steady companion. The first gas-operated motor vehicle debuted in Massachusetts the following year. In an era before disposable containers, the vacuum flask came along at exactly the right time. Now, people could travel long distances of their own accord and drink a hot beverage along the way. In the 1890s, the road trip was born.
Believe it or not, Dewar was not a member of the family that produced the famed Scottish whiskey, although I suspect much of that intoxicant has been stored in Dewar's vacuum invention. Like many inventors, Dewar was not terribly business-savvy, and he failed to properly patent and profit from his own creation, unsuccessfully taking rivals to court.
One of those competitors, the German glass blowers Burger and Aschenbrenner, ran away with the industry. They loosely named their revised vacuum flask after the Greek word for 'heat' and began producing the Thermos for local use in 1904. Two years later, William B. Walker, an American visiting the Munich-based Thermos plant, became enamored of the magic container and obtained a license from the Thermos company to bring the product to America the following year
Walker opened the American Thermos Bottle Company in 1907, producing the containers out of a small factory in Brooklyn, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. (Today's DUMBO neighborhood, 31 Washington Street, to be precise. The building is all condos today, so that means one or more people are living in an old Thermos factory as you read this.)
His timing could not have been more divine. Auto dealerships began popping up around Times Square, driving a market for accessories. New York's continuing construction boom -- paired with less advantageous lunch-break privileges -- suggested new uses for the Thermos.
The product began popping up in truly odd places, all engineered for the maximum of publicity. Most of the 200,000 New Yorkers who lined Broadway for an "automobile carnival parade" in 1909 observed one prize-winning vehicle -- a car in the shape of a Thermos bottle.
The Thermos car is from the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup races, in Long Island. I imagine it must be the same vehicle. Pic courtesy VanderbiltCupRaces.com .
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