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Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip (2003)

The saga of Horatio Nelson Jackson, the first man to cross the United States by automobile--in 1903!


Ken Burns


Dayton Duncan

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Credited cast:
Keith David ... Narrator (voice)
Tom Hanks ... Horatio Nelson Jackson (voice)
Adam Arkin ... Other Voices (voice)
Tom Bodett ... Other Voices (voice)
Philip Bosco ... Other Voices (voice)
Kevin Conway ... Other Voices (voice)
John Cullum ... Other Voices (voice)
Murphy Guyer Murphy Guyer ... Other Voices (voice)
Amy Madigan ... Other Voices (voice)
George Plimpton ... Other Voices (voice)
Eli Wallach ... Other Voices (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Roger Allison Roger Allison ... Himself (scenes deleted)
Mary Louise Blanchard Mary Louise Blanchard ... Herself
Dayton Duncan Dayton Duncan ... Himself
William Least Heat-Moon William Least Heat-Moon ... Himself (writer)


In 1903, Americans considered automobiles practical for short trips only. Horatio Nelson Jackson believed differently. He bet a man fifty dollars that he could drive an automobile across the country. Nelson paid a man to accompany him on a trip that attempted to go from California into Oregon and the Rocky Mountain states, then across the Midwestern U.S.A. and finally to New York City. Jackson's trip made him a media sensation. While Jackson, the other man, and a dog travelled by car, they encountered numerous setbacks involving mechanical difficulties. After the Jackson car started, two other teams of drivers set out from San Francisco, each trying to be the first team to reach New York. Written by Ken Miller <wkmiller704@yahoo.com>

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Plot Keywords:

automobile | dog | bet | marriage | 1900s | See All (20) »


America's First Road Trip




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Release Date:

6 October 2003 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Pionierfahrt 1903: Mit 20 PS durch die USA See more »

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Did You Know?

Crazy Credits

At the end, a photo of Dr. Jackson's dog is seen, and the sound of a dog barking can be heard. See more »


Featured in Ken Burns: America's Storyteller (2017) See more »

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User Reviews

Thanks to shows like this, we can learn more than dates, battles and names of dead guys....
14 September 2011 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

I recently retired from teaching history and still love watching historical shows. However, some time back, I noticed that watching shows about wars, dead presidents and the like weren't as satisfying as they used to be for me. And, as a result, I started changing the way I taught my students. So, instead of focusing on this, I began to expose kids more and more to social history--the history of the people. This meant learning about how people lived and what it was like for people of all classes--their hobbies, diets, sports,...whatever contributed to life and which were only rarely discussed in any detail in history books. As a result, I noticed I was having a lot more fun and so were the students. Now I am NOT saying the other stuff isn't important--but all of this goes towards learning history.

In light of this, I love odd little documentaries like "Horatio's Drive". It tells an obscure story about a weird man who, on a lark, made a bet he could drive from San Francisco to New York. While this sounds like no big deal, this was 1903--and cars were notoriously prone to breakdown. And, to make things worse, few roads existed and those that did were mostly dirt. And, getting supplies was a nightmare. So much we take for granted today simply didn't exist and you generally don't think of the infrastructure needed for modern life. Well, Horatio and his driving partner certainly learned about this...the hard way.

This is a single-episode documentary from Ken Burns. Like most of his films, it uses a lot of photos and used various camera techniques (such as zooming and and out) and music to make the photos come to life. And, it uses nice narration (from Keith David of all people) and various actors impersonating the people from the story. Some of the actors contributing their voices were Tom Hanks, Adam Arkin, George Plympton and Eli Wallace. And, like all of his films I have seen, it's a top-notch production and a nice case of storytelling. However, I would have to say that the film did have one shortcoming. After a while, the film seemed too long--just like Horatio's drive. Because of this, the film loses a bit of its dramatic punch--though it does appear to strive hard for accuracy--which is admirable.

My favorite part of the show? Bud and his goggles! See the film and you'll know what I mean!

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