Montague Henry Roberts – New York to Paris 1908




Monty Henry Roberts information seems to increase exponentially as the Internet matures–some not totally accurate.

Monty was the original driver of the only American entry in the famous 1908 New York to Paris race when it left Times Square in NY City on February 12, 1908.

Mr. Roberts had quite a reputation as a racecar driver at the ripe old age of 24 when he helped convince Mr. Thomas of the E.R. Thomas Motor Company to enter one of his cars, a 1907 Thomas Flyer.

Leading the race, he had to give up the wheel in Wyoming when four days after the race began, Montague Roberts was advised by Mr. E.R. Thomas, the Thomas Flyer carmaker, that he had selected three of his cars to be shipped to the Paris Grand Prix that summer for what they thought was a more prestigious race. “Monty” would be his driver for the one car eventually selected.

The possibility that Monty would be the driver in that event was most certainly planned and discussed before the NY-Paris began. A man of both intensity and integrity, twenty-four year old Monty would have found it difficult to say no to Mr. Thomas and the opportunity.

(As an example of his integrity, he fell out of grace with Mr. Thomas the following year for criticizing the quality of his 1909 models).

They thought Monty would originally drive to San Francisco but time was running out for his practice for the Paris event and while his ship would not leave until May 15, 1908, he needed a few “prep” races in America so he left the Thomas Flyer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the trusted hands of three other drivers most importantly George Schuster, his hand-picked mechanic. George, who had the same personal intensity as Monty, ultimately steered the car all the way to Paris.

Someone said, as is circulated on some Internet sites, that Monty “laid claim” until his death that he “won” the race then his claim may be misinterpreted. Since auto racing was relatively new, for this endurance race, your “pit crew” was sitting next to you. If one started the race, one could have been thought of as being included as part of the winning team. In fact, two years before his death in 1957, he told a local (Nutley, NJ) newspaper reporter, for a feature article, that he “dropped out of the race “[he] “turned the wheel over to George Schuster”, hardly a man that bragged he crossed the Paris finish line to be the “winner.”

After winning, Mr. Schuster would only participate in the resultant New York ticker tape parade if Monty were not excluded, as was Mr. Thomas’ wishes because of the aforementioned criticism.

It was Monty’s strong urging and cajoling that convinced Mr. Thomas to enter an American automobile in the first place. More importantly, had he not had the wisdom to select the best in Mr. George Schuster, there would have certainly been no race for anyone to “win” save for France or Germany.

Albertine Randall Wheelan

The Gallery needs more information on Artist Albertine Randall Wheelan. Her print currently hangs in the gallery.

This is all we could find on the internet:

Albertine Randall Wheelan was born in San Francisco May 27, 1863. She was the youngest of the four children of Albert Gallatin Randall of Eliot, Maine and Anne Augusta Frost Soule of Phillips, Maine. Her father died when she was very young and her family was left in constrained circumstances. At the age of sixteen, upon graduation from San Francisco Girls High School, her unusual artistic talents were quickly commercialized.

She developed a profitable business preparing name place cards for the many fashionable formal dinners then in vogue. When she had earned enough to afford tuition, she applied and was accepted to the San Francisco School of Design. Her work was encouraged by the Dean of the school, artist Virgil Williams. Mr. Williams became a mentor to the young student and was “a great artist and like a second father to me”. He brought her to the attention of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco w she began to supply a steady demand for place cards, posters, and commemorative menu covers all the while keeping up with a demanding course of study at the School of Design.

She also started to do magazine illustrations for “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Harper’s Young People,” and “St. Nicholas.” The artist married San Francisco businessman, Fairfax Henry Wheelan, (Harvard, 1880) in San Francisco May 18, 1887. The couple had two sons, Edgar Stow Wheelan and Fairfax Randall Wheelan. Edgar Wheelan was to become the nationally syndicated cartoonist Ed Wheelan, who created the comic strip “Minute Movies” and is given credit for helping to bring day-to-day continuity to newspaper comic pages.

Mrs. Wheelan may have been one of the earliest female cartoonists. She created and drew a daily comic strip titled “In Rabbitboro” which was in syndication 1927-1928. From 1880 to 1910, Mrs. Wheelan continued to illustrate for magazines and children’s books for numerous publishers including G. Schirmer, E P Dutton, and Ernest Lister of London. In this period, she also designed a large number of personalized bookplates.

Race Car Driver Monty Roberts Obituary NY Times 1957

 Thomas Flyer at the New York to Paris Race of 1908. Here you’ll find photos of family ancestor Montague Roberts, who was the driver at the start (in Times Square, New York City). He had to leave at   Wyoming however as he honored his commitment to drive in that season’s French Grand Prix. I will add in the near future references to some further reading on the subject.

Below is Time magazine’s Obituary on Monty.M.H. Roberts Obituary that appeared in the New York Times, September 21, 1957. (They didn’t get it quite right however, [see above re: Monty’ s departure] but for that matter, neither did the New York Timesshown below left.)

Time magazine Monday September 30, 1957:

Died. Montague H. Roberts, 74, mechanical engineer, pioneer automobile buff, who taught Franklin D. Roosevelt how to drive; in Newark, N.J. On Feb. 12, 1908, while thousands of waving spectators roared hoarsely, Roberts climbed into a Thomas Flyer, yanked down his goggles and dusted out of Times Square, pitted against five other massive autos in the first New York-to-Paris-via-the-West auto race. Surviving mud burials in Iowa, sandstorms in Montana, Roberts left his car mates in San Francisco, and they brought the battered Thomas—”the best car in the world in 1908″—into Paris on July 30, 26 days ahead of its nearest competitor (three of the six made the finish).Here’s what American Heritage magazine (November 1996 vol 47 issue 7) said, as was verified by two other book authors, regarding the location of his departure:

Montague Roberts had just been given the nickname Get Here Roberts when he withdrew from the Thomas team in Cheyenne to fulfill a previous obligation to drive in a trophy race back East. By then he’d driven the car for forty days, and he’d driven beautifully, knowing when to press the car forward to make time and when to take it easy to stay out of the ditches as much as possible. As he left, the Thomas had a commanding lead of a week over the Zust; his replacement was a young man named E. Linn Mathewson who was associated with the Thomas dealer in Wyoming.

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A beautifully written and detailed “must read” book on this subject is Julie M. Fenster’s Race of the Century, published by Random House. I believe she was the author of the 1996 American Heritage article excerpted above.