Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

Operating on the assumption that you’re reading this today, Saturday: Happy Anniversary!

Today is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing... the front page of today’s News Herald celebrates the achievement. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong drove the lunar module to the moon while Michael Collins looked after the mother ship.

(Note to the science deniers among us: the earth is not flat – though parts of the Midwest might lead you to believe otherwise, the earth is warming and the glaciers are melting, and we really did put men on the moon.)

Armstrong was the first to do the lunar stroll; his remark about “one small step for a man” is among the most famous of all American comments, even more famous – perhaps – than “Lock her up,” “Send her back” or “I did not have sex with that woman.”

Looking back on the event, and thinking of Aldrin and Armstrong as explorers rather than as merely lucky guys who got to go to the moon, it occurs to me that, in that context, they’ve been treated shabbily: There are no automobiles named after them.

Hernando de Soto didn’t actually discover anything – just as neither Armstrong nor Aldrin discovered the moon – but Hernando was certainly an explorer. The Spaniard was involved in exploratory expeditions to the Yucatan Peninsula and was part of Pizarro’s beat down of the Incas. More importantly for us, he led the first European expedition into what is now modern day United States. He and his mates traveled through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and, maybe, Arkansas. His team was the first documented group of Europeans to cross the Mississippi.

In return, Chrysler named a car after him. In fact, Chrysler created an entire DeSoto Division and manufactured cars under that name until 1960.

Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle was a French explorer. In the 1600s, La Salle led a group of adventurers through the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada and canoed down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the entire Mississippi basin for France.

For that, General Motors, Cadillac (named after a French explorer) division manufactured the LaSalle automobile from 1927 through 1940.

I know what you’re thinking: the Hudson automobile (later Nash-American) was named for Henry Hudson, the fellow who explored vast stretches of Canada and for whom Hudson Bay is named. You’re wrong.

Not all explorers had cars named after them. There was never a Cabeza deVaca automobile, there was no Christopher Columbus, hardtop or convertible, no Ferdinand Magellan or Vasco de Gama. Even Alexander Mackenzie, the Scot who crossed North America above Mexico a decade before Lewis and Clark, only merits a river. (It goes without saying the leaders of the indigenous groups led “send them back” chants just before sending out war parties.)

The point is this: if there’s any justice in this world, someday I will drive to Atwoods in my all-electric – or, at least, hybrid – Armstrong and park beside an Aldrin.


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