Wes Davis: American Journey


The story of an epic road trip of several American giants in August 1918.

In this somewhat nostalgic portrait of a lost rural America, Davis, author of “The Ariadne Objective,” portrays the touching friendships that sprang up among automobile tycoon Henry Ford, naturalist John Burroughs, inventor Thomas Edison, and tire industrialist Harvey Firestone as they took road trips together in Ford’s miraculous vehicle, exploring parts of rural America that had been largely inaccessible.


The galvanizing relationship began in 1913 between Burroughs, then 75, and Ford, nearly 50 and enjoying a banner year for the Model T. Both men, notes the author, were deeply influenced by the writing of Emerson, but they disagreed about the role of the automobile in American life. To Ford’s chagrin, Burroughs wrote in an article in “Atlantic Monthly” that the automobile “was going to kill the appreciation of nature”; Ford believed it would open up facets of America that most people could not access. In response, Ford sent Burroughs a new Model T, which indeed changed the old naturalist’s life by prompting him to set out on wide-ranging road trips beyond his Hudson River homestead.

Meanwhile, Ford and Edison, who had both “imbibed” the rural values of the Midwest, and Firestone, “the head of the largest tire manufacturing concern in the country,” were long-standing friends, busy plotting numerous new business ventures. After a long lead-up that contains a few too many unnecessary details, Davis chronicles the memorable road trip of summer 1918, when the fast friends—who held wildly different views about the impending war—drove from the Allegheny range through West Virginia and into the “rustic magic of the Great Smoky Mountains,” all in the spirit of curiosity and exploration.

A rare account of brilliant minds as they set off in search of America.

Wes Davis is the author of “The Ariadne Objective,” a narrative account of the underground war to rescue Crete from Nazi occupation during WW II, and is the editor of the Harvard University Press “Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry.” He received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University and taught for more than a decade at Yale University. His writing has appeared in publications that include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Nation.




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