Palm Beach County’s First Automobiles

1905 – Florida requires automobile registration

Florida Memory - Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

Florida Memory – Early Auto Registrations, 1905-1917

In 2015, the State Archives of Florida digitized the first two volumes of motor vehicle registrations recorded by the Florida Department of State. These ledger pages, found online at Florida Memory, Found Here contain detailed information recorded between 1905 and 1917 about our earliest vehicles, including the registered owner, city, county, make, model and horsepower of each automobile and motorcycle.

George Potter

George W. Potter was the first person in this part of the state (Palm Beach County) to legally register his automobile with the state.

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

George Potter, courtesy Potter Collection, Historical Society of Palm Beach County

Other horseless carriages were dotting the sandy roads, but Potter’s registration of a lightweight, four-horsepower Orient Buckboard, recorded November 20, 1905, was the 80th registered vehicle in the entire state of Florida. Before moving to Florida, Potter studied art and engineering in Cincinnati. His great grandson, David Willson, cartoonist for the Palm Beach Daily News, recounts how you could tell Potter had a fascination with all things mechanical as his sketches were filled with bridges and steam boats.

Record #80 Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Record #80
Geo. W. Potter Nov. 20, 1905 vehicle registration

Waltham Manufacturing Company was a manufacturer of automobiles in Waltham, Massachusetts, including the Orient Buckboard, between 1902 and 1908

Henry M. Flagler

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry M. Flagler, courtesy Library of Congress

Henry Morrison Flagler registered his vehicle on December 6, 1905, a few weeks after Potter. Local history sources contend that Flagler did not allow motorized vehicles on his luxury island resort at Palm Beach, instead preferring guests to traverse through the gardens and jungle trials via wicker rickshaw bicycles, powered by Negro guides.
White Auto Co. 1905

White Auto Co. 1905


Flagler’s vehicle, listed as a Touring Car manufactured by White Sew’g Mch. Co. (White Sewing Machine Co./White Motor Co.) operated on steam, hence the vehicle was not a noisy as other autos of the time. Presidents William Taft and Theodore Roosevelt also owned White Motor Company automobiles during this time period.

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations

Florida East Coast Hotel Automobile Registrations



Florida East Coast Hotel System

The vehicle must have served Flagler well, for in the next few months his Florida East Coast Hotel system purchased and registered five additional identical touring cars.

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

1907 White Touring Steam Car, courtesy Henry Ford Museum

Boynton Hotel Company President A.E. Parker

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

A. E. Parker Touring Car Record

In January 1908, Albert Edward Parker, manager of the Boynton oceanfront hotel and son-in-law of hotel owner Maj. Nathan Smith Boynton, registered his 30-horsepower Winton M.C. Co. Touring Car. Parker conducted business in both West Palm Beach and Miami, and likely used the old, bumpy sand trail to traverse the county for business purposes and to take hotel guests on sight-seeing tours.
Winton Motor Carriage Car

Winton Motor Carriage Car


1908 – 500 registered vehicles in Florida

By 1908, 500 vehicles were registered in the state of Florida.


2016 – Over 20,000,000 registered vehicles in Florida

Currently, there are over twenty million vehicles registered in Florida, with 1.2 million in Palm Beach County.

Vehicles registered in the State of Florida as of February 5, 2016

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About Janet DeVries Naughton

Intrepid historic researcher with eight published local history books. Passionate about Palm Beach County history. 20 years experience in libraries, museums and archives. Available as a consultant for family history projects, books and personal archival collections. History….one never-ending mystery waiting to be solved!

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