The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

History

June 11, 2014

McEleney's celebrates a century

Somehow it seems fitting that Emmett McEleney was born in 1886 the same year Carl Benz completed the Benz Patent Motor Car, considered to be the first true automobile.

The world was a very different place when Emmett and his brother, Leo, started an automobile dealership on June 1, 1914, with $1,000 in borrowed capital and one vehicle that neither of them knew how to drive.

For one, it wasn't unheard of for cars to still be called "horseless carriages."

And while they were gaining in popularity with unexpected speed, automobiles were still relatively rare; at the turn of the 20th century, there were fewer than 8,000 cars in America, compared to some 250 million registered passenger vehicles today.

World War I broke out in Europe less than two months later, and President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to directly involve the United States. Gasoline was about 12 cents per gallon. The Panama Canal opened to the public that same year, and it would be another seven months before the first transcontinental telephone line connected AT&T's East and West Coast networks.

"In those days when the automobile industry was in its infancy the establishment of a dealership was considered a giant step," wrote the Clinton Herald in the McEleney's 50th Anniversary Section on May 30, 1964.

Emmett and Leo could not have foreseen just how big of a step that founding was for both their family and the community they were committed to serving.

The National Automobile Dealers Assocation a trade group that represents nearly 16,000 auto dealers nationwide, and which John McEleney was the chairman of during the 2009 economic recession and auto-industry crisis lists only 38 members in its Century Club. Of those listed, many started as farm implement dealers; very few have been in the automobile business for 100 years in the same family and in the same community.

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