999 Sight Seeing Auto - "Better than the Rest"

  Rodliffe & Blomfield Roots&Branches - Puzzles ©2010-2017 Rosemary & Stan Rodliffe

Who, when & where?

Which member of the Rodliff(e)/Radcliff family brought or sent back this photo as a memento of a sightseeing tour in the USA? And are they in the photo or was it a marketing souvenir? If we can identify where and when the photo was taken we may be able to compare the passengers with photos of family members who were in the vicinity at that time.

999 sightseeing auto

It's the USA or Canada because the round trip costs $1. Vehicle looks like 1900s. The only clue to where it might be is a winged wheel logo below the driver with "Sight Seeing Auto - 999 - Better than the Best". Judging by the manure on the road, horse drawn vehicles must still have been quite common.

The evidence below suggests that unless the 999 company was operating in other locations it is most likely that the relative in our photo was on a tour of Washington DC some time in the 1900s.

The bus

Almost identical to the one shown here in Cadillac MI.

Early 1900s autobus on Mitchell Street, Cadillac MI

Auto Bus on Mitchell Street, Cadillac, Michigan.

For a fee of ten cents, this early 1900's auto bus transported riders from downtown to the fair grounds, about one and one half miles north of the City Hall.
[Wexford County Historical Society & Museum

Thanks to Cliff Sjogren at the museum, we now know that this bus was most likely manufactured by the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company in Pontiac MI between 1902 and 1909.

Goodwin's Weekly (Salt Lake City, Utah) April 28 1906 reported that the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company had contracted to provide its 20-passenger sight-seeing motor cars to the American Sight-Seeing Coach Co., which controlled sight-seeing enterprises in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, St Paul, Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City and many other principal cities.

Very similar buses were operating in Buffalo NY, Chicago IL and even further afield in Seattle WA (see below); a range of other sightseeing vehicles were also operating in the early 1900s (see below).

The tour company

This photograph from the Oshkosh Public Museum shows a Washington DC tour bus. Signs on the side read: " All Around Washington Auto Co./Starting Point 14th & Penn. Ave NW. ..."; " Sight Seeing Auto/999/Better Than the Rest." and an almost identical 999 winged wheel logo to our photograph.

Thanks to Sue Budlong in Falls Church, Virginia, U.S.A. for finding an advertisement for the Automobile 999 tour company in the Washington Post of September 17, 1905. It proclaims 'The most COMPLETE, PERFECT and SATISFACTORY tour of the Capital City, in the most comfortable and best-equipped of the sight-seeing coaches.' They share the column with their competitors who warn readers: 'Don't be misled by cheap imitations of our superior and original service'.

Washington DC tour bus
Tour bus in Washington, DC.

Candidate 1 - Joseph RODLIFF

Joseph was born 1871 at St Columb in Cornwall. He was a miner and steel plant worker who worked extensively in the north-east US, became a US citizen, died at Tuscola in 1942 and was buried in Newton-Compau cemetery. He worked in the US apart from a short period between 1910 and 1920 when he returned to the UK and worked on his brother's farm. A grafter rather than a sightseer I would have thought. Compare his passport photo taken in 1920 with the best match on the bus.

Candidate for Joseph RodliffJoseph Rodliff passport photo 1920

Candidate 2 - Harry RODLIFF

Harry Rodliff at marriage in 1900Candidate for Harry Rodliff

Harry was born at St Columb in Cornwall in 1874 and died 1913 in Cornwall. He was a black sheep of the family, in and out of the US between 1900 and 1912, getting divorced from his first wife at some stage and marrying his second in Canada. He seems a better candidate for sightseeing and it's just possible that his second wife is also in the picture. Variously recorded as traveller and stock salesman. Compare a photo taken at the time of his first marriage in 1900 with the best match on the bus.

Candidate 3 - Clifford John RODLIFF/RADCLIFF

Clifford was born at St Dennis in 1879 and was in and out of the US between 1898 and 1910 working in Colorado steel plants. He married in West Virginia in 1916, was drafted in 1918 but had disappeared by 1920. We have no photos of this man.

Similar vehicles

Chicago sightseeing bus 1908

A Chicago sightseeing bus around 1908, courtesy of 9thousandfeet.com.

Bus Buffalo NY 1908

Outside the Erie County Savings Bank in Niagara Street, Buffalo, New York, circa 1908. Go to Shorpy to see the full image

Gray Line sightseeing bus advertisment 1909 Seattle Worlds'Fair

Gray Line advertisement for 'deluxe fresh-air sightseeing coaches' at Seattle World's Fair in 1907 presented in Paul Dorpat's blog. Everything any tourist could want, including:

  • 'fast, gravity-type side curtains' - presumably for sudden torrential rain?
  • 'improved one-man hand brake' - implying that brakes until then required at least two men to deploy?
  • 'sonorous bulb French air horn'

Not quite so relevant but a fascinating insight into early tourism

Early sightseeing bus New York

[Seeing New York]

Boston sightseeing tour

Boston sightseeing tour. [Celebrate Boston]

1900s tour bus New York

The first big apple sightseeing bus. On the side: "Observation Automobile - The Only Way - Fischer System - Leaves Every Day - Post-card Store 946 B'way - Between 22nd & 23rd Street - 10am, 2 & 4pm - Fare Round Trip $1.00"
[Ephemeral New York]

And more: