• The Legacy of Henry Ostermann

    As Seen in the Summer 2018 Issue
    By Jan Gammon, LHHB Coordinator Prairie Rivers of Iowa

    Henry Ostermann was a multi-dimension man who helped develop the Lincoln Highway. He was a pioneer in transcontinental travel and provided much insight about traveling to Joy and Fisher. The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway is planning for an installation of an interpretive panel in Montour near the location where Mr. Ostermann lost his life. A grant has been submitted to fund an interpretive panel and we will use part of the information below in that panel. The following information was gathered from the Sacramento Union newspaper and other resources. We do need to confirm what trip # this fateful trip was for him, so if you
    can verify that or have any other information please contact Jan Gammon at 515-232-0048.

    The Adventurer
    From one of his personal reminiscences Ostermann states: “When I first drove across the United States in a motor car in 1908, and again in 1912, there was no such thing as a transcontinental road. Few people had driven across the country
    and the innumerable great difficulties which the motorist undertaking a transcontinental drive was forced to encounter made the trip possible only to those who enjoyed hardships and a rough outing, and who had time to do the drive—which might take sixty days or ninety days, depending upon the conditions of the roads and the luck one had in finding good ones, and in getting across the different states in as direct a manner as possible. In those days one started out with no very clear conception of exactly what route would be followed and proceeded across the country in a more or less uncertain fashion, inquiring at different points the best road to follow to the next city to the west.

    It was impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the length of time to be required in reaching the coast, the cost of the trip, or in fact to foretell whether it would be possible to complete the journey at all or not. Since the inception and announcement of the Lincoln Highway in 1913, it has been a wonderful experience to watch the growth and development of this transcontinental road. In 1912 it is probable that there had been less than a dozen through transcontinental trips by motorcar actually completed under their own power. The development of a transcontinental route is shown in the fact that conservative estimates place the number of motorists who made the transcontinental drive last year at between thirty and forty thousand. Instead of sixty days or more being required to make the drive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the ordinary unhurried progress of a pleasure party can make the trip in less than thirty days, provided, of course, the weather conditions are favorable.” It might be said with due reasonableness that Ostermann was the pioneer traveler of the transcontinental motor route, which today has developed from a pastime, or pleasure to an ends which mean much to a commercially active future.

    The Organizer
    Ostermann, while in California in the late 1910’s, chose many of the early county consuls to represent the Lincoln Highway Association and his death was keenly felt in the highway circles within which he had moved up in popularity as he became the Field Secretary of the original Lincoln Highway Association.

    Upon his death in 1920, the Lincoln Highway Association directorate had this to say concerning Ostermann and his work:“H. C. Ostermann, Field Secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association, has spent practically all of his time since 1908 on the Lincoln Highway between New York and San Francisco, and has driven that route more times than any other man. He had completed his eighteenth transcontinental trip in 1919. In Ostermann’s own words about transcontinental motor trips, it appears that his work has been responsible for the introduction of that popular adventure of the present day. His publications telling experiences of his journeys back and forth and the timely advice is given motorists have been widely read. Some of his snappy slogans will mark the Lincoln Highway transcontinental route for years to come.”

    The Visionary 
    From the Sacramento Union, 1920: “During the advent of the army transport train from Washington to San Francisco, occurring in September 1919, Ostermann acted as guide to the train of about 70 trucks and 200 men over the Lincoln Highway. The transport was the idea of Ostermann, his purpose was to demonstrate the practicability of using motor trucks in the transportation of troops, supplies and arms and ammunition over the transcontinental highways. Ostermann also served valiantly, as one of the directors in the highways division of the Army and won praise for his ability to route and to control the movements of army motor trucks and automobiles. The present endeavor upon which he had undertaken his fourth transcontinental drive from New York to San Francisco was for the purpose of laying out a second adventure in the use of highways for military purposes directly affecting both inland and coast travel.”

    His Demise 
    Sacramento Union, 1920: “Ostermann and his assistant were en route to Sacramento and Oakland, driving the Scout official car on the Lincoln Highway, when the car went over an embankment, killing Ostermann and seriously injuring his assistant.” Henry Ostermann had married Sarah Simms of East Liverpool, OH only 4 months after the passing of his first wife, Babe Bell. Sarah’s honeymoon was delayed; and when it came, it was Ostermann’s first 1920 crossing of the highway. Since 1908, this would be the 21st time that Ostermann had crossed the Lincoln Highway.

    On June 7th, 1920 while staying with friends in Tama, Iowa, Ostermann left early in the morning to go to a meeting in Marshalltown, thirty miles to the west, with plans to return that evening to Sarah. Six miles east of Tama he pulled out to overtake a slower car. While going 40 – 50 mph Ostermann lost control, skidded two hundred feet, rolled over twice, and was killed instantly as his head was crushed between the ground and the steering wheel. Sarah took his body back to be buried in Riverview Cemetery in East Liverpool, OH. They had only been married for seven months. Distraught at her loss, Sarah never remarried. (From “American Road” by Pete Davies, 2002)

    The Lincoln Highway was just about as important to Ostermann as he was important to the Lincoln Highway. The route would not have been as easily developed without his insight and travel knowledge. This is not to say it was an easy task, but without Mr. Ostermann, it may never have connected America, from coast-to-coast. He was a true pioneer in his field and we owe him much gratitude.

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