Four wheels and a mission
October 23, 2009 1:05 PM   Subscribe

On July 4, 1916, Gussie and Addie Van Buren set out from New York on two Indian Model F motorcycles. Though it was well before the creation of an interstate highway system, they reached San Francisco on September 2 and Southern California on September 8.

Their goal was to prove that women could serve in the impending World War as motorcycle dispatch drivers [pdf]. (And once women served in war, it would be harder to deny them the right to vote.)

They're now enshrined in both the Sturgis Hall of Fame and the American Motorcyclist Hall of Fame.
posted by mudpuppie (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
And their success inspired the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which still today uses the same technology in the design of their motorcycles. Suck on that, modernity!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2009

Three years later a Lt Col Eisenhower would take part in a similar cross-country trek, taking a similar amount of time (July 9 ~ Sept 5).
posted by mokuba at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2009


No, really, this is seriously cool, and I'll bet they attracted a fair bit of attention in that day. Woman motorcyclists are rare enough as it is. This is a way cool post, mudpuppie. :)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:21 PM on October 23, 2009

god damn that's awesome. Those motorbikes look like little more that slightly-larger-tired bicycles. Great post, great story.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:22 PM on October 23, 2009

They financed the trip by selling crystal meth along the way and Addie broke a pool cue over the head of William Howard Taft at a stop in a Cincinnati bar.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

As a Harley chick, I am a happy camper, I did not know this happened. Thank you for finding this great story.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2009

Step back a moment and note what is also at work here. Ike, a Republican!, knew we needed a federally funded highway system to bring the country together. He got it passed using what seems always to work: national security called for it. (ps: Hitler got autobahn) some wise person (forget who) said similarly we need a federally designed and funded Information Highway to give us broadband etc to bind us together --national security?
posted by Postroad at 1:34 PM on October 23, 2009

They financed the trip by selling crystal meth along the way and Addie broke a pool cue over the head of William Howard Taft at a stop in a Cincinnati bar.

NOTHING moves The Blob!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:36 PM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get your motor running! Head out on the ... uh....

"Adeline was an English Teacher, and applied to the US Army after their return. After proving their competence as riders, and demonstrating that she could handle the rigors of riding the mountain roads, her application was rejected. "

Man that sucks. After all that hardcore riding, rejected. 80 miles in the desert, dirt trail past SLC. I know guys today who don't like riding too far past the last tavern. Wouldn't go up Pike's Peak because they don't want to adjust their engines. Wow, they're awesome.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:55 PM on October 23, 2009

Nice post about a very cool couple of people. I'm frustrated that the pictures are so darn tiny, though.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:08 PM on October 23, 2009

Don't know why they would be rejected.
You know, my great aunt was in the army back then.
Kansas had almost no paved roads at the time.
Even so, those bikes look rugged enough.
Seriously, this was a great post.
posted by clarknova at 2:26 PM on October 23, 2009

oneirodynia, the pictures in this link are larger.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:29 PM on October 23, 2009

I would love to have the time off (oh, wait) and the money (oh, right, that's why my unemployed ass isn't doing this) to go "back roads. period." across the country.

And I wouldn't trade my female moto-friends for anything in the world. My lady bikers, let me show you them.
posted by Eideteker at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2009

Not being able to participate in World War One is a glass ceiling I don't mind staying unbroken.

What a time in history to go on a cross-country motorcycle trip, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:42 PM on October 23, 2009

Fantastic post. Along the same lines, Wheels Through Time in Maggie Valley, NC did an exhibit on the history of women in motorcycling. Additionally, a dear friend gave me a photo history book about women in motorcycling that is stuffed with stories like the Van Burens'.

Women like these made it possible for us. I roadraced at the club level for several years. Ashley Fiolek is the first woman to be signed to the Red Bull/Honda Factory motocross team (she is also profoundly deaf). Angelle Sampey (Seeling) is just five wins away from setting the all-time Pro Stock Motorcycle wins record. Women are the fastest-growing demographic in motorcycling. We have pioneers like the Van Burens to thank for that.
posted by workerant at 3:55 PM on October 23, 2009

> the impending World War
With Gallipoli a distant memory, and the Somme in its fourth day, it was hardly impending.
posted by scruss at 7:31 PM on October 23, 2009

Damn, I wish my sister had a motorcycle.
posted by suki at 6:00 AM on October 24, 2009

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