Hawaii’s First Automobiles

Horses, carriages, and bicycles ruled the dirt roads in Honolulu before 1899.

On October 8, 1899, people in Hawaii saw something new: a black “horseless” car. People watched Henry P. Baldwin and Edward D. Tenney drive around town and heard an unfamiliar sound: the car engine’s humming, so unlike the horses’ neighs.

The Hawaiian Gazette describes Tenney’s motorized trip: “During the trip from his residence to King street and out along Punahou street the vehicle was tried at three different rates of speed, first at four miles, then at eight, and on Punahou street at fourteen miles an hour. It worked most smoothly and easily at all time, was well under control, and, a most important point, it appeared to excite no undue attention from horses, though it was amusing at times to note their drivers’ preparations for the expected calamity.”

When Theo. Hoffman, manager of the Hawaiian Electric Company, tried to drive Baldwin’s automobile, the horses around town suspiciously watched the new contraption:

“Very few horses have attempted thus far to step on it. This morning a Chinese steed reared away from the mysterious roadster, probably the first time he had taken so much exercise in 27 years, but did no damage. Other horses eyed the intruder suspiciously, but seemed to size it up as one of the accidents of this ‘transition’ period in Hawaii’s political history.”

The Independent even says the hack-drivers’ (taxi-drivers’) horses “pricked up their ears, and realized that the day of doom had arrived.”

The newspapers noted the automobile’s advantages. The Hawaiian Star notes that anyone could operate an automobile, and that the automobile was noiseless, could go up to any speed, and could stop “quicker than a horse and started as easily as an electric car.” The Independent notes the automobile’s vehicle ran “smoother than any rubber tire hack,” and the driver does not have to yell “whoa! get up! – you!” The Independent also claims “profanity will be at a discount” when the car goes mainstream. Unfortunately that’s not the case today with road rage. The Hawaiian Gazette says the automobile is good for its safety, moves noiselessly, and has freedom from vibrations and odor.


The newspapers also foresaw the disadvantages. Austin’s Hawaiian Weekly notes,When your motor breaks, out goes your lights, and you are subject not only to inconvenience, but arrest.” The Hawaiian Gazette points out that the automobile is heavy due to its storage batteries, is expensive, and can go only a limited distance, from 20 to 30 miles, before the next recharging.

The newspapers predicted the future popularity of automobiles. Austin’s Hawaiian Weekly notesthe word “automobile” may become a household word. The Hawaiian Star says,in a few weeks they will be as common here as vegetable wagons.”

– Alice Kim

Automobile Ads

See the earliest automobile ads on the library’s Flickr.

Locomobile: America's Top-Notch Car


“The Automobile: Makes Its Appearance in Honolulu”
The Hawaiian gazette, October 10, 1899, Page 4, Image 4
“Automobile about Town: Object of Much Attention Today”
The Hawaiian star, October 09, 1899, Page FIVE, Image 5
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015415/1899-10-09/ed-1/seq-5/“Ka Lio ka Mea Aloha”
The Independent., October 09, 1899, Image 2
“The automobile has set its tires upon our shores.”
Austin’s Hawaiian weekly., October 14, 1899, Page 8, Image 8
Additional Articles about the Automobile’s Early Days in Hawaii
“A Runaway Yesterday: L.T. Grant’s Horse Bolts With a Buggy at the Auto Yard”
The Honolulu republican., June 27, 1900, Page 8, Image 8
“An automobile race around Oahu is slated as an event for July 4, next.”
Evening bulletin., July 06, 1900, Page 5, Image 5

“New Automobile Hacks: What They Will Look Like and Do”
The Hawaiian star., July 28, 1900, Page FIVE, Image 5

“Automobile Shut Down: Waiting Until Better Service Can be Given”
The Hawaiian star., June 24, 1901, Page FIVE, Image 5


3 Comments on “Hawaii’s First Automobiles”

  1. […] Today in history–October 8, 1899–people in Honolulu saw cars whizzing past them for the first time. Henry P. Baldwin and Edward D. Tenney drove around their “wagons” without horses!  Austin’s Hawaiian Weekly predicted that the word “automobile” may become a household word. Read more about it in “Hawaii’s First Automobile.” […]

  2. Al Thorstad says:

    To think over a 115yr.s ago the first car drove 14miles an hour down King st.Now with a top of the line car you can almost reach that speed at rush hour!LMAO!

  3. […] Read about Hawaii’s first automobile: hdnpblog.wordpress.com/historical-articles/hawaiis-first-… […]

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