American Automobile Association Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The establishment of an organized national automobile club, the American Automobile Association, helped improve conditions for automobile drivers and increased popularity of the automobile.

Summary of Event

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a national organization that was formed in 1902 by nine local automobile clubs. The AAA was created to be an advocate of the automobile driver and to work toward improving the conditions of highways and roads. Since it was established, the organization has become involved in every aspect of travel and has developed many services to aid travelers. American Automobile Association Transportation;American Automobile Association Automobiles;American Automobile Association [kw]American Automobile Association Is Established (Mar. 4, 1902) [kw]Automobile Association Is Established, American (Mar. 4, 1902) American Automobile Association Transportation;American Automobile Association Automobiles;American Automobile Association [g]United States;Mar. 4, 1902: American Automobile Association Is Established[00430] [c]Organizations and institutions;Mar. 4, 1902: American Automobile Association Is Established[00430] [c]Transportation;Mar. 4, 1902: American Automobile Association Is Established[00430] Webb, Frank C. Miles, Samuel A. Scarritt, Winthrop E. Donald, Frank C.

Frank C. Donald, the president of the Chicago Automobile Club, and Samuel A. Miles, the manager of the Chicago Automobile Show, helped organize the first national meeting of automobile clubs in the United States. Until that time, automobile clubs had been only local organizations. Donald and Miles sent letters to all the automobile clubs in the United States, inviting members to attend a meeting in Chicago for the purpose of organizing a national association of clubs.

The primary reason automobile clubs were formed in the early days of the automobile was hostility toward drivers. Most people in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s disliked the automobile, preferring the traditional horse and buggy. In 1902, there were some twenty-three thousand automobiles on American roads, compared with seventeen million horses. The general public regarded automobiles as unsafe because they traveled much faster than horse-drawn vehicles. The automobile driver had many problems to contend with, including getting stuck in mud or having a flat tire and thereby blocking traffic. In 1902, a driver could get a traffic ticket for blocking the road regardless of the reason. Adding to the dislike of automobiles was the fact that the noise they made frightened many horses, which caused accidents.

When a driver joined an automobile club, driving became more pleasant. Club members went on trips together so that if one had a problem, the others were there to assist. Also, when several automobiles traveled together, the drivers were subject to fewer unpleasant run-ins with the drivers of horse-drawn vehicles.

The clubs originally formed as social groups rather than service groups, but many soon became involved in working to improve driving conditions. Most roads were intended for the use of horse-drawn buggies and were not in good condition for automobiles. Few roadside signs existed to indicate routes, as buggy drivers seldom went anywhere to which they did not already know the way. The advent of the automobile meant that people could travel much farther in a day, and travelers became more adventurous. Many clubs became involved in improving roads and installing signs. One difficulty some clubs experienced was that they could not provide signs showing the routes to all surrounding cities. The distances were too great, and creating and posting the signs became too expensive. Many clubs worked together to put up signs, but their efforts were limited. Although the local clubs did accomplish some things, the need for a national club became increasingly clear.

At first, a New York automobile club wanted to establish control over the other clubs around the United States. When this proposal met with disapproval by other clubs, Frank C. Webb, treasurer of the New York club, suggested that a national association be formed in which all local clubs would have equal power. This proposition was received with more optimism, and the process of creating a national organization began.

In the letter inviting clubs from across the United States to attend the Chicago meeting, several goals were listed for a national organization. These included improving roads, sharing ideas, pushing for national regulations and laws for automobiles, protecting the rights of automobilists, and improving the automobile. The letter was sent under the aegis of the New York club (the Long Island Automobile Club), the Automobile Club of America, the Philadelphia Automobile Club, the Chicago Automobile Club, and the Rhode Island Automobile Club.

The first meeting, held in Chicago on March 4, 1902, was attended by representatives from nine automobile clubs: the Chicago Automobile Club, the Automobile Club of America, the Automobile Club of New Jersey, the Long Island Automobile Club, the Rhode Island Automobile Club, the Philadelphia Automobile Club, the Princeton University Automobile Club, the Automobile Club of Utica, and the Grand Rapids Automobile Club. Dozens of other relatively large clubs failed to send any representatives. Those who took part in the meeting accomplished four main tasks. First, they established a constitution that kept the same priorities as the invitation letter. Second, they named the new organization the American Automobile Association. Third, they voted for officers, electing Winthrop E. Scarritt from the Automobile Club of America as president and Frank C. Donald as vice president. Finally, they scheduled a second meeting.

On April 1, 1903, the American Automobile Association had its second meeting in New York City at the home of the Automobile Club of America. Members discussed a variety of topics related to motoring and came out in favor of the Brownlow-Latimer Bill, which would authorize the spending of some $24 million to improve roadways across the nation starting in 1904. The federal government was to pay half the cost, with states picking up the remainder. Following initial improvements, the states had to keep up the roads at their own expense. One of the AAA’s member clubs donated $10,000 to help promote the bill. The members also decided at this meeting not to focus their efforts on trying to persuade other clubs to join the AAA.

The AAA made consistent progress in combating the public’s dislike of automobiles. When a bill was proposed in New York City that would have restricted any automobile from carrying gasoline within the city, the AAA worked successfully to defeat the bill.

In 1907, the AAA started to offer some of the services for which it became well known, providing members with information concerning roads, laws, and facilities. Not long after, the AAA started producing its own road maps, as the organization found most of the maps then available—maps created for bicyclists—to be inadequate for automobile drivers. In 1915, the association began offering assistance to motorists in trouble. Some of the most common problems were flat tires and engine failures; motorists also often ran out of gas or found their vehicles stuck in mud. Local automobile clubs had been formed in large part to assist drivers with such problems, but having a national organization to help all members was a great accomplishment. Given that many drivers experienced difficulties with their automobiles while they were far from home, a national organization was a wonderful aid. Drivers no longer had to travel with local club members to be secure.


The American Automobile Association continued to grow throughout the twentieth century and continued to add to the services offered to member clubs. In 1936, the AAA made the provision of emergency road assistance mandatory for all affiliated clubs, with services to include towing, opening locked vehicles, supplying gas, and fixing mechanical failures. By 1992, the AAA had contracted with more than thirteen thousand facilities to provide these services, and in that year, the nationwide organization fielded approximately twenty-two million calls for emergency assistance.

As the AAA grew, it became involved in every aspect of travel, applying its original goal of making travel easier for the automobilist to other means of travel. The AAA published its first guidebook in 1917, and by the end of the twentieth century, AAA travel agencies throughout the United States and Canada were providing maps and guidebooks to members. In 1932, the AAA began offering members maps for drivers that highlighted the best routes to their destinations. In 1992, the organization provided members with more than eight million such highlighted maps, with information on detours, driving time, ferries, and more.

In addition to services for members, the American Automobile Association became involved in community service, offering training courses for driver education instructors as well as programs to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving. The AAA also sponsored traffic safety courses in high schools and organized safety patrol programs at elementary schools across the United States, greatly reducing the number of accidents involving child pedestrians. In 1985, the association’s board of directors voted to support the passage of mandatory seat belt laws. Shortly thereafter, the AAA started a program advocating the use of seat belts.

In the twenty-first century, the AAA employs the latest technology to deliver services to members while it continues to fight for the improvement of roads and highways in the United States as well as to protect the interests of automobile drivers. American Automobile Association Transportation;American Automobile Association Automobiles;American Automobile Association

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berger, Michael L. The Automobile in American History and Culture: A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Comprehensive collection of essays includes discussion of the establishment of the AAA and the organization’s influence on automobile-related laws and travel in the United States. Includes chronology, references, and indexes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eng, Paul M. “Bits and Bytes.” BusinessWeek, August 12, 1991, 64D. Discusses the AAA’s use of technology to link data of service stations to provide better service for roadside emergencies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutfreund, Owen D. Twentieth Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Addresses how the advent of the automobile changed American cities. Includes illustrations, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Partridge, Bellamy. Fill ’er Up: The Story of Fifty Years of Motoring. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952. Presents the life of an automobile driver during the first fifty years of the automobile. Gives details on automobile clubs and the formation of the American Automobile Association. Describes hardships and setbacks experienced by automobile drivers and discusses laws concerning the automobile.

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Categories: History