Even years after its invention, the auto was a novelty and a source of fascination. Automobiles were produced in the 1890s, and the first closed circuit automobile race was held in Rhode Island in 1896. But it took some time for automobiles to appear on the unpaved roads of the time, zooming along at 20+ miles per hour, causing ladies to wear hats with long, wraparound scarves to keep the dust off their faces and their hair from flying in the breeze. Henry Ford introduced the popular black Model T. in 1908, and built his first assembly line in 1913, using efficient production methods to drive down the cost of buying a Ford. In 1914, he made 300,000 cars, and refinements on the assembly line helped the price continue to decline for several years, finally making the automobile available to middle class families as well as the wealthy. Santa, ever in the forefront of technological development, was portrayed with an open auto packed with toys early in the 1900s. Sometimes he was driving, occasionally he had a driver. Usually he was driving through the winter snows, not taking to the skies in his “flivver”.
Overhead, airplanes were taking off and postcard Santa Clauses were on them. The Wright brothers made history in 1903, flying a powered, controlled airplane for a “sustained flight” for the first time. On that day near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the best flight of the day covered just over 850 feet in 59 seconds. It took two more years for them to introduce the Flyer, the world’s first practical airplane.
Soon after, dirigibles were developed in France and Germany. In 1910, a rigid dirigible (renamed a Zeppelin) was flying regular trips between Dusseldorf and Friedrichshafen, a distance of 300 miles. Perhaps Santa took to dirigibles so readily because most holiday postcards of the time were designed and printed in Germany, the worldwide center of postcard production.
Dirigibles and airplanes were an obvious boon to a fellow who has to circumnavigate the globe in one night. In the John Winsch copyrighted designs of Santa in airplanes Winsch has given Santa the added time-saving advantage of tossing the toys from the airplane to children below, eliminating that exhausting chimney climbing.
Santa prepares all year for his hectic Christmas eve trip. Communications mean a lot to a man who has to keep track of all the world's children. The busy postcard Santa adopted the telephone and the wireless to help him stay informed. Marconi, who was taking credit for inventing the wireless (see Eric Larson’s engaging book about this, titled Thunderstruck.) struggled at the start of the century to make his wireless communications between continents more reliable. The world was impressed with the ship-to-shore wireless messages that allowed the capture of Dr. Crippen and his lady friend Miss Le Neve after they murdered Mrs. Crippen and tried to elude British police by hopping aboard a transatlantic liner. Their crude disguises were noticed aboard ship, the captain contacted Scotland Yard, and the U.S. police apprehended the criminal pair when they reached New York. The wireless was a transcontinental sensation! Here we see Santa working on his list with the aid of his wireless radio set.
Numerous postcards can be found of Santa on the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was so different from already-known methods of communication that AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph Co.) published an entire set of advertising postcards to convince people that having a telephone in the house would actually prove useful. More on that in a later entry.