In 1916 the Pikes Peak Auto Highway opened to usher in the modern era of automobile tourism in the region. An engineering marvel for its day, it was the brainchild of marketing guru Spencer Penrose. The nineteen-mile road cost $400,000 to build and required extensive use of draft animals, manpower and explosives to carve a road suitable for auto traffic up the mountain. To recoup his investment and that of his stockholders, Penrose charged a fifty cent toll. Anticipating the reluctance some tourists might have to paying the cost to reach the summit, Penrose launched an extensive marketing campaign. A 1916 promotional brochure urges, “Cost should not be considered. It would be foolish to allow the question of cost to deter one from making what is, and forever will be, the World’s Most Wonderful Trip!” Local newspapers predicted up to 5,000 automobile tourists would arrive in the month of August alone and urged business owners to prepare for them.
The exciting and unique tourist experience offered by the Pikes Peak Auto Highway thrilled visitors in the early twentieth century and continues to do so today. Acknowledging that all drivers and their automobiles might not be suitable for the challenging drive up Pikes Peak, enterprising entrepreneurs outfitted fleets of automobile touring cars to whisk visitors up and down the mountain. At the tender young age of 14, Robert K. Brown of Colorado Springs began working as a tourist driver on the Peak making several trips a day during the summer months. His passengers must have been delighted at the trip up the mountain and yet relieved to return home safely when they learned his age! Fleet drivers were known to make the trip as thrilling as possible in order to receive large tips at the end of the drive from grateful passengers.
To generate further excitement and publicity for the Pikes Peak Auto Highway and the soon to be opened Broadmoor Hotel, Spencer Penrose created the first annual Penrose Trophy. Putting up the $2,000 prize money himself, the Hill Climb Contest up Pikes Peak garnered so much national attention that articles about it appeared on the front pages of 650 different newspapers. Now known as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb or the “Race to the Clouds,” it is the second oldest race in the United States next to the Indianapolis 500. Every summer, automobiles, trucks and motorcycles speed around 156 corners to the summit, a total distance of 12.4 miles. The race is legendary and draws an international audience with racers and fans coming from as far away as Germany, Japan and Dubai. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb has had a significant impact on local tourism and perhaps even more importantly, continues the legacy of Spencer Penrose in the region today.
Submitted by Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History