Soap Advertising on a Motorcar

For us the car is ubiquitous. Cars are parked on every street and millions of journeys are made by motorists every day. It is hard therefore, to imagine the time in Victorian Britain when motorcars were new, rare and didn’t even have an established name; they were called anything, from horseless-carriage and self-propelled vehicle, to autocar or automobile. To experience one of these vehicles first hand in the 19th century was a novelty and a spectacle. Capitalising on this were advertisers, well used to taking advantage of new forms.

One of the earliest cars in Manchester, with Mother Shipton in the passenger seat.
One of the earliest motorcars in Manchester, with Mother Shipton in the passenger seat.

Probably the first motorcar in Manchester was the one photographed above. It captures a 1895 or 1896 Lutzmann-Benz imported from the continent by Charles Goodwin, a local soap manufacturer. The rather scary costumed figure in the passenger seat is dressed as Mother Shipton, a popular English folklore figure, who would hand out soap to passers-by.

Advertising in Manchester on vehicles was not new, there are several earlier images of horse-drawn trams advertising things like tobacco, cocoa, Bovril and soap. Adverts could also be placed on horse-drawn carriages allowing the advertiser to move the advert in order to increase exposure. Several other central businesses followed Goodwin and it was reported in the trade periodical The Automotor and Horseless-Vehicle that:

 “The motor-car is making headway. There have been several in the Manchester streets lately, chiefly for advertising purposes.”

With advertising by motorcar prevalent in the city centre it is not surprising that the first recorded motoring offense in Manchester was committed by a vehicle advertising a pantomime to passers-by on Bridge St. and Deansgate.

It wasn’t just residents and visitors of the city centre that were exposed to motorcars. Residents of Didbury, Salford, Hulme and Strangeways during 1897-1898 would also be used to seeing local engineers driving and experimenting on different forms of motor vehicles.

As well as advertising in the city centre, the novelty and spectacle of the motor car was exploited at the North-West’s holiday resorts. The Blackpool Motor Car Company was formed in July 1897; they bought 5 Daimler Motor Wagons with the aim of “running a service of autocars for pleasure trips in Blackpool and district.” This was probably the first example of a company running a public service using motor vehicles. Other companies were set up with a similar aim, including the Llandudno Motor Car Company and the Motor Touring Company of Southport. A ride from Blackpool to St. Anne was reported to cost 3 shillings, I wonder how much a donkey ride on the beach compared?

A ride on a motorcar whilst holidaying might have introduced the more well-to-do residents of the North-West to the pleasures of motoring, perhaps even inspired a few to consider purchasing a motor of their own. Despite this the Blackpool Motor Car Company also received bad press. On August 1897, whilst 4 gentlemen and 2 gentlewomen from Burnley were passengers, the driver was convicted of driving furiously, at 16mph, over the 12mph speed limit. Evidence for the prosecution was given by two cyclists who were chased down the street by the motorcar.

These ventures didn’t last long very long. The Blackpool Motor Car Company was liquidated as early as 1899. Perhaps 3 shillings a ride was too much for the poorer holiday makers, perhaps the novelty wore off, or the upkeep costs were too high.

What’s important at this embryonic phase for motoring is the way in which businesses in the North West were looking to exploit the various uses of the motorcar so early. These less obvious uses, of advertising and offering pleasure rides, are less explored by motoring historians than private motoring.

The image of Goodwin’s Lutzmann-Benz comes from the archive at the Museum of Science and Industry. Other sources for this blog include the Manchester Guardian, The Automotor and Horseless-Vehicle Journal and various images from the Manchester Image Collection.



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