by Christopher Grisham
In 1913, the first transcontinental highway across the entire United States was finished. They named it the Lincoln Highway and it went from New York City to San Francisco. A sudden boom in people buying a new invention called the “automobile” made highways more important than ever. Henry Ford introduced the famous Model T car 5 years earlier; however, did you know cars were being made in Tennessee as early as 1906?
1913 Saturday Evening Post ad for Marathon Motor Works from the collection of the Tennessee State Museum.
It was in this year that Marathon Motor Works started making cars in Jackson, Tennessee. Originally, the cars were called “Southerns” after the company’s first name, Southern Engine and Boiler Works. It turns out there was already a car named Southern. They decided to change the name of the business to Marathon Motor Works, and then the cars became known as “Marathons.” The owners chose this name because the Olympics had just happened in 1904, and anything Greek was very popular. Marathon is not only the name of a city in Greece; it is also the name of an event in the Olympics.
The factory made 600 cars in 1910, but they didn’t just make the cars, they also made all the car parts. That allowed them to have total control over the quality of the cars.
The next year, Marathon moved the factory to Nashville and expanded the business. The factory was making 200 cars a month in twelve different styles, by 1913, when the Lincoln Highway was finished. There were Marathon dealerships in cities all across the country, but due to poor company leadership, Marathon Motor Works stopped production in 1914.
Today, as few as nine Marathon cars still exist. Four of them can be found in the original factory building that still stands in Nashville, which is home to the antique store, Antique Archaeology. Learn more at www.marathonvillage.net.
Marathon Motor car formerly on display at the Tennessee State Museum
Transcontinental – something that crosses a continent; in the United States something that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Boom – rapid growth
Antique – an object that is a collectible because of its age
How long did Marathon Motor Works produce cars?
Look carefully at the Marathon car in the picture. How is it similar to your family’s car?
How is it different?
Why would highways become more important after cars like the Model T and Marathons were introduced?
What advantages would Marathon Motor Works have by moving their factory to Nashville instead of Jackson?
5.01 - Explain the need for the South’s move toward industrialization after the Civil War.
Christopher Grisham is the K-12 Education Manager at the Tennessee State Museum.