The Society of Automotive Historians

Richard B. Brigham

.Richard Bevier Brigham was the sparkplug that ignited a flame which transformed a group interested in automotive history into a solid, strong, and significant group, the Society of Automotive Historians.  This profile is a combination of extracts from the SAH Journal #157 written by Keith Marvin, Taylor Vinson and his wife Grace R. Bringham

Dick Brigham was born on May 10th, 1907 in Toledo, Ohio, and resided there until 1962 when he moved to Marietta, Georgia, where he passed away July 6th, 1995. Dick had a lifelong interest in automobiles and started to drive at age thirteen. His first car was a problem-prone Inter-State which he replaced with a satisfactory Willys-Knight tourer. From the early fifties, he belonged to numerous antique auto clubs and had owned several antique vehicles. His interest in the history of automobiles was sparked by the purchase of a Clymer book when he was on a business trip to New York City. That was the beginning of a comprehensive library which grew over the years. His knowledge base was complemented with extensive correspondence with authors and enthusiasts.

Although he was a machine designer, the interest in old cars led to a change to a career in publishing with, at first, a simple advertising paper, Motormart, then to the history of some of the vehicles in the magazine The Road to Yesterday.

His long life was one of great variety, emphasizing a love for and understanding of motor vehicles. He was a master in ferreting out the facts and stories of them, specializing in those which, without his curiosity and research, would probably have had no memorial and perished as though they had never been. Thanks to this one man, a large number of cars and trucks which otherwise might have remained forgotten and unknown live today, their histories chronicled. Moreover, he set an example for many of us to follow accordingly.

Some are born to be leaders or, on a lesser scale perhaps, founders – operators who are gifted in creating groups which continue successfully once they have been formed. Dick was the founder in this case, following that action by being active in the Society until his death, counseling, advising and printing the Society’s publications. Fortunately for the early financial fortunes of the Society, Dick was a printer.

There did exist a formidable cadre of automotive historians, both here and abroad, many of whom were in contact with one another, but there was no central clearing house, so to speak. Many of them had been writing books and magazine articles for many years or serving as editors and publishers. This void would end in 1969 when, as the result of some correspondence, Dick Brigham and G. Marshall Naul proposed the formation of a group devoted to the history of motor vehicles. On October 11th, 1969, a group gathered at Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the Society of Automotive Historians was created. Today, the group comprises several hundred members from around the world.

Dick is listed as member #1HF, meaning that he was a Founder and subsequently in 1985 was presented with Honorary Membership, “The Friend of Automotive History Award,” the highest accolade accorded by the Society. He was the Society’s first vice president, and responsible for the Cugnot machine as our symbol.

He was the editor of the first 29 issues of the Newsletter (now SAH Journal) from September 1969 to mid-1973 and againcame back to edit 30 more Journals from January 1984 to December 1988That means he was responsible for 59 out of the 157 issues until his passing. The Journal editor is considered as the most important person in SAH because he or she is the direct link to the members; the editor personifies the Society. If the editor drops the ball, members won’t renew. So Dick’s early Newsletters gathered the growing membership and set the tone and tenor which we have tried to follow ever since: informal, inquisitive, and informative.

He was also editor of the first ten issues of Automotive History Review, returning to put out an additional seven – from Winter 1973 to Winter 1980 and Fall 1984 to Summer 1988. That’s 17 out of 28 Reviews to that point. Thus Dick was responsible for putting out about forty per cent of the combined total of both SAH publications issued during his lifetime. In fact, he was editor of both the Journal and the Review from 1984 to 1988. If that’s not love and dedication, then what is? He was not only our founder, but our sustainer over our first 20 years.

As a writer, editor, publisher and a researcher into automotive history, he was, indeed, a ‘famous man’ and few would question that. He was active in SAH affairs and travelled to its activities, dinners and other meetings until ill health forced him to cut back. It didn’t diminish his interest, and he kept in touch with his fellow members and many friends by phone or mail. In these contacts, he was assisted over the many years by his wife, Founding and Honorary Member Grace, who was an automotive authority in her own right, an author and a helpmate to her husband.

In 1990, the Society honored both Dick and Grace by establishing the Brigham Award, which is presented annually for the best overall treatment of automotive history by a periodical publication over all issues of the previous year. Dick left a memorial – the Society of Automotive Historians – and his name will live because of it. His inspiration affected all of us who knew him and he should be credited with that, the chronicles which, without him, may have never been written; and as for those generations of automotive historians yet unborn, the name of Richard B. Brigham will be regarded with gratitude for his work in the field he loved.