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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  William J. Foster


The New York Times
December 5, 1909

W. J. Foster Delivers Interesting Lecture at Auto Engineers' School.

In discussing the Chauffeur question at the weekly lectures of the New York School of Automobile Engineers, 146 West Fifty-sixth Street, William J. Foster struck a responsive chord with autoists.  In his last lecture Mr. Foster dealt with this subject exhaustively and offered many valuable suggestions on the subject.  Among other things he said:

The chauffeur question is one which has of late caused much attention, due to the constant accidents and fatalities.  Further than this, it is a question which should not merely be discussed until it dies a natural death, but I believe it is a question which should interest every public-spirited man and body until something could be done to place the business on a surer basis and thus free the public from the constant danger to which it is subjected by incompetent and reckless drivers, and put an end to the discredit now attached to the profession of a chauffeur.  There are thousands of chauffeurs in New York State to-day who simply because they own a so-called "license" and because they can drive a car consider themselves adepts at their trade and term themselves "licensed chauffeurs."  This word "license" is a great stumbling block to the public, and is directly responsible for many accidents, and if it were better understood by the public the chauffeur question would be placed on a better footing than it is to-day.  There is in New York no such thing as a chauffeur's license or even a licensed chauffeur.  Before a man is allowed by law to drive an automobile as a chauffeur he must have his name registered as such at Albany, and the fee charged for registration is $2.  Any one paying the fee receives a badge, which is really only a receipt from the State for money received for registration, yet it enables him to pass himself off to the innocent employer as a competent chauffeur.  With such lax laws, combined with the ignorance of the public as to the value of the registration badge, what wonder that the daily papers are filled with reports of loss of life and limb from reckless and incompetent driving?

From the above we learn two important facts.  First, if you are an owner do not employ a man who relies wholly or even partly on his registration badge to prove his competency.  Secondly, if you wish to become a chauffeur do not let yourself be misled by any institution which guarantee you competent to secure a registration badge or what they call a "license" after you have completed their courses.  This is only an adroit means of getting you into their business, for they may teach you absolutely nothing, yet will still be able to cover their guarantee by furnishing you with the registration badge at the small cost to themselves of $2.  Thus you see that although a registration badge is required by law, as no examination of any kind is needed to secure it, its ownership proves absolutely nothing about the competency of the owner, and for this reason the license has positively no part to play in the making or chosing of a competent driver.  An expert driver is then not a "licensed chauffeur," but he is a man who is thoroughly competent along three distinct lines.  In the first place he has a thorough understanding of every organ and part of his entire machine; he knows how to care for each part in its turn, how it operates, how to detect trouble when it arises, and how to remedy it in the quickest manner.  All these things from the first essential part of the knowledge of a competent man.  In the second place, he must be able to drive his car skillfully and surely in the city traffic with the greatest safety to both the public and the car.  Thirdly, he must be a man of the proper calibre to understand the responsibility of his position.  In his hands lies the power to give much pleasure to those whom he is driving, or if he be careless it may be the cause of accident and death.  A properly trained man will realize the responsibility of his position in a manner to cause him to drive as carefully as possible; he will be anxious to help the police in making the traffic in New York City the best regulated in the world, as this will be to his own advantage, and he will look down on joy riding as an underhand and dishonest advantage to take of his employer.  To sum up, a competent chauffeur must be proficient first in the theory of the machine; second, in his driving of the car, and third, in his understanding of his responsibilities to his employer and to the law.

In order to become a chauffeur in the full meaning of the word, you must become acquainted with the numerous systems and devices that are used in an automobile.  One of the principal things that you should know is the so-called action or cycles of the gasoline motor.  This is the foundation upon which a chauffeur can build his knowledge, for when a thorough knowledge of the cycle of the motor has been gained you are ready to advance further into the secrets of the gasoline motor and take up the action of the valves of the motor.  You must learn that the inlet and exhaust valves must open and close when the piston is in certain definite positions, and know why this is necessary.  When the action and construction of the motor and the consequent study of valve mechanism, theory, and setting are firmly fixed in the memory, it is easy, stepping from stone to stone, and becoming familiar with each little part and knowing what relation it has, and what part it plays in the construction of an automobile.

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