Horatio “Good Roads” Earle

Horatio Earle caricature

Some of Horatio Earle’s accomplishments:

  • President of the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.)
  • Michigan’s first State Highway Commissioner
  • Founder of the American Road Builder’s Association
  • Father of the first Portland cement concrete road (Woodward Ave.)
  • Author of the State Reward Road Law (First state road funding)
  • Won State Senate seat as an L.A.W. candidate

Excerpted from Men of progress: embracing biographical sketches of representative Michigan men

Originally published by The Evening News Association in 1900

EARLE, HORATIO SAWYER. Mr. Earle is a Detroiter but a native of Vermont, having been born at Mt. Holly, in that State, February 14, 1855. He is the youngest of a family of three sons and a daughter, offspring of Nelson C. and Eliza A. (Sawyer) Earle. He traces his genealogy back to the Earles in England, who were prominent among the agitators in demanding from Charles II. the “Subjects Writ of Right,” second only to Magna Charta, leading to the permanent establishment of the right to the writ of habeas corpus. He is eighth in descent from Ralph and Joan Earle, who landed near Providence, R. I., about 1636, after a two years’ sojourn in Holland.

Mr. Earle followed the farm until twenty-one years of age, his education having been that of the district school, with a course at Black River Academy, at Ludlow, Vt. Later he attended a night drafting school, which he alleges drafted him out of the harder lines of labor into comparatively easy life. He learned the trade of an iron moulder and had charge of foundries at Bradford, Vt., and Chicopee Falls, Mass. This practical knowledge, coupled with his knowledge of drafting, led him into a line of invention, and he has patents that are very productive. In 1886 he started out as a commercial traveler for a Massachusetts house. He came to Detroit in 1889 and has sold the entire product of an edge tool manufactory in the State of Maine, who manufacture goods invented and patented by him, with large quantities of other lines of hardware, always working on commission.

He has been in active business in Detroit, two years as head of the Earle & Scranton Company, Limited, and two years with the Earle Cycle Company, Limited, being associated in these enterprises with other citizens. The first was a success and was sold out to Port Huron parties. The other was a “gift enterprise,” in that the money invested was given away. As the fruit of his various inventions and business enterprises he has accumulated quite a little of this world’s goods. Mr. Earle sets not a little by his record in the moral realm. A few years ago he indited the motto: “A happy man is he that causes others to happy be,” and then swore that sentiment should govern his future acts toward his fellowmen.

He early came to disfavor severity in dealing with children, believing that their will power should be cultivated rather than broken, and that they should not be punished for little transgressions until they should promise never to do the like again or plead sorry.

He is a member of the Methodist Church, but not of the ascetic order, but one that loves all Nature and can see the goodness of the Creator in all good things. He belongs to Ashlar Lodge (Masonic) of Detroit, Peninsular Chapter and Damascus Commandery K. T. Also to Michigan Lodge No. 1, I. 0. O. F. He is Chief Consul of the Michigan Division League of American Wheelmen.

Is a Republican in politics, although voting independently where the fitness of men is concerned.

He has always been a student of economic subjects and has never lost his sympathy with the armer and laborer, and this is one of the reasons that has led him to take hold during the past few years of the labor, highway and convict labor problems. He has been a leading promoter of the good roads movement in Michigan.

In the several relations of life he has always preferred to lead rather than to follow the lead of others.

He is an attractive speaker and began speaking in lyceums when a boy of sixteen.

Mr. Earle has been twice married, Agnes L., daughter of Leonard H. and Jane Lincoln, of Plymouth, Vt., to whom he was married in 1874 (died 1878), was the mother of two children, Georgie Anna, died in infancy, and Romeo H., a student in the Michigan College of Medicine and Surgery. His second marriage was in 1882 to Anna M., daughter of George A. and Eliza J. Keyes, of Chicopee Falls, Mass. Their one son, George L., is a student in the Detroit High School.

Quotes from Horatio Earle’s Autobiography of “By-Gum” Earle, published in 1929:

I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country.

…the League of American Wheelmen was formed in 1879, with each state organized as a division. The League was the first organization that promoted the building of better roads. The League fought for the privilege of building bicycle-paths along the side of public highways. The League fought forthe privilege of carrying bicycles in baggage cars on railroads. The League fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of
highways and streets.

The bicycle is to be given credit, not only as the pioneer of the good roads movement but also as the parent of the automobile.

The first good roads work in the state of any consequence was carried on by the Michigan division of the League of American Wheelman, led by Edward N. Hines, now chairman of the Wayne County Road Commission, in persuading the 1893 Legislature to pass the county road law. When this law had been adopted by the voters of a county, a board of county road commissioners could be created, which could take under its control certain leading and important highways to be improved at the cost of the whole county, including
municipalities and the rural districts.

The fight for good roads for Michigan began thirty years ago. At that time the feeling against the movement for better roads was so strong and bitter that few, very few, dared to mention the subject… In Royal Oak, one night, when I was holding a meeting in the Town Hall, a lot of drunken galoots were hired to sit on the front seats and break up the meeting; but I told them that I could fight just as well as I could talk, and if they let another yip out of their heads, I would be off the platform and their families would know that they had come in contact with an ex-Vermonter — another yip did not come.