There were ridiculous regulations. One required sending a person an eighth of a mile ahead to warn drivers of horse-drawn vehicles that a motor car was approaching.
Roads were mud. Routes from here to there were unmarked and uncharted. Speed traps were common and unscrupulous and authorities took advantage of the motorist.
If all of these didn’t form a roadblock, there were also mechanical problems. And service facilities were few and far between.
In the early 1900s, America’s love affair with the automobile had hardly reached the courting stage.
Only 23,000 automobiles were on the nation’s mudways. Horses, on the other hand, numbered 17 million.
The courtship began in 1902 in Chicago, where a group of auto enthusiasts formed the American Automobile Association. Today, membership in the AAA approaches 55 million in North America, with over 1,100 offices serving the diversified needs of those members.
The Automobile Club of Minneapolis, known today as AAA Minneapolis, was established in the fall of the same year for the objectives surrounding “…the instruction and mutual improvement in the art of automobilism and the literary and social culture of its members.”
Turn-of-the-century “automobilists” had to stick together to help each other out of the mud and onto smoother roads — literally and figuratively. Owners of the newfangled “horseless carriages” were constantly scorned and harassed. Farmers created soupy chuckhole traps — and then charged a hefty fee to haul the automobile out of the muck! Cities and villages passed absurdly slow speed laws — four to 10 miles per hour. Some speed limits were even kept a secret, but the fine was $10 for every mile per hour over the limit
By 1907, it was evident that automobile clubs would be springing up around the state as enthusiasm for the horseless carriage increased. Accordingly, G. Roy Hill, then secretary of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis, set up the Minnesota State Automobile Association as a “parent” organization for all AAA clubs in the state. Auto Club dues in those days ran from $1 to $3 per year, because they were mainly “good roads” organizations with little in the way of expense for actual service rendered to the member. At one time, there were 103 automobile clubs in Minnesota affiliated with AAA through the Minnesota Automobile Association. Today, only two of those clubs remain. AAA Minneapolis, serving Hennepin County and AAA Minnesota/Iowa, based in Burnsville.
G. Roy Hill died suddenly in 1931 and Hugh M. Craig became Executive Secretary of the State Association and Executive Secretary of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis. In the entire state, there were 14,000 AAA members at the time (6,000 of them were in the Minneapolis Club) — and one of the worst depressions in the United States history had come upon the scene.
Hugh M. Craig weathered those lean depression years. His son, William B. Craig, followed in his footsteps to become Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis, and the Club grew to include over 125,000 members in Hennepin County before his retirement in February 1987. Dennis R. Blenis, a veteran of the club since 1948, and most notably, Director of the Travel Agency, succeeded Craig as the president and Chief Executive Officer. He retired in early 1997 and was succeeded by longtime travel agency head Steven J. Frank.
The first Club office was located in the original Radisson Hotel and later the Plaza Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. In 1922, the AAA Minneapolis office was moved to their first townhouse at 13th and LaSalle.
One of today’s most important services, emergency road service, was started in 1915 by the Automobile Club of Missouri. In 1921, the program became more sophisticated, with contract agreements with service stations whereby they would help stranded AAA members, and then be reimbursed by the club. This service was very successful and by the late 20s, reciprocal agreements allowed AAA members ERS service anywhere in the country.
With car ownership increasing, prevention of accidents became a major occupation of the Club. In 1928, the Automobile Club of Minneapolis starting furnishing belts and badges to the School Safety Patrols in Hennepin County and now boasts a record of zero pedestrian fatalities at patrol-guarded crossings in Hennepin County that has extended over 70 years. The Club also has been active in urging driver-education with behind-the-wheel training in the city’s high schools.
In the post war years, the Automobile Club of Minneapolis joined with national AAA and other affiliated clubs all over the nation in returning to an aggressive program for improving motoring conditions. Together they worked for the development of an interstate highway system, designed particularly to end urban congestion on through-routes. AAA demanded action to relieve the parking problem, which the AAA calls the “number one motoring headache” in the then present trend toward urban decentralization.
Much of the early history of AAA Minneapolis was built around the “Club” concept, and for many years, there was even a country club devoted exclusively to its members.
The AAA Auto Club Country Club at Bloomington-on-the-Minnesota, was a favorite weekend dinner and dancing spot for members for many years.
Because of the early motoring habit of traveling in pairs or groups to help one another when vehicles broke down (which they regularly did), the Club built the country club around 1911. After a fire, the club was rebuilt on the same site in 1919. The members built and maintained the road from Minneapolis to the club, and motored there on Sundays.
For decades, AAA distinguished itself as the nation’s only auto club, and its membership and services flourished. AAA maps, TourBooks® and TripTiks® became synonymous with efficient travel.
The American Automobile Association copyrighted its first map in 1912. AAA now produces more than 350 million copies of travel-related publications annually, making it one of the largest travel publishers in the world.
AAA TourBooks®, CitiBooks® and CampBooks®, which list thousands of hotels, motels, restaurants and attractions, are based on the inspections of a nationwide staff of field reporters — modern “pathfinders.” AAA ratings of accommodations are coveted in the travel industry and many a traveler won’t rest until he or she finds a motel where the “AAA Approved” sign is proudly displayed.
In the early 1950s, old prop planes were replaced by jets and new travel destinations across the country and abroad opened up for AAA travelers.
These more sophisticated needs led to the formation of the AAA Travel Agency, which today is one of the largest in the metro area. Today, through the AAA Travel Agency, Club members and nonmembers can purchase airline, cruise and rail tickets, charter and escorted tours, travel accident insurance and travel documents.
AAA started operating motorcoach bus tours for members in 1951, but opened them to the public and started retailing tours to other travel agencies in 1961. Today, AAA runs about 20 tours each year to North American and international destinations.
It was in the early ’50s that the Townhouse at 13th and LaSalle was demolished and replaced by a remodeled auto agency next door into a modern office that was home to both the state association and the Auto Club. By the mid−´70s, the Loring-Nicollet Development on the site forced AAA to move. And in 1976, the Club opened its doors in its present location in St. Louis Park.
AAA has over 40 affiliate clubs in North America with some states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, subdivided territorially by up to 13 clubs.
Today, AAA Minneapolis is governed by a 13-member board, has roughly 180 full and part-time employees and five additional branch offices: downtown Minneapolis, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina-Galleria allowing us to serve more than 205,000 members.
Now in our 113th year of service, AAA keeps pace with the ever-changing demands of its mobile members. Diversification into areas those early auto club pioneers would have never dreamed possible is a trademark of the AAA today. Many of our members utilize our state appointed deputy register (DMV) which attracts more than 125,000 licensing customers each year; our travel store, travel agency, insurance agency or one of our several financial services products throughout the life of their membership.