One fine November day 115 years ago, the proud owner of a new White Motor Company steam-powered automobile ventured 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, where his car broke down on the side of Jefferson Boulevard. He called out a repairman, who quickly fixed the problem by flicking a match to restart the pilot light. Three days later, the car owner received a bill for a whopping $15 (about $428 in 2015 currency). That bill prompted the White’s Steamer owner and nine of his friends to found the Automobile Club of Southern California on Dec. 13, 1900.
From its early days helping to signpost and map Southern California’s roads, the Auto Club continues to serve the needs of members in 2015 with a variety of cost-saving services and benefits, including its legendary roadside assistance, a full-service travel agency, an extensive discount program and high quality insurance through its affiliated insurer, the Interinsurance Exchange. As a membership organization, the Auto Club also serves its surrounding communities by advocating for improved transportation systems and providing effective traffic safety and education programs, including operating a state-of-the-art automotive research facility.
“We’re happy and honored to celebrate 115 years of service to our members,” said Auto Club CEO Bob Bouttier. “We like to think that our longevity comes from listening to members and constantly evolving our services to anticipate and fit their needs.”
One example of the Auto Club’s evolution is mapping. Once available only on paper, the Auto Club’s 6.7 million members now can access maps and navigation tools online and through the free AAA Mobile app available for iOS and Android devices. New app features can even help users find parking spaces and nearby gas prices.
Some key moments in Auto Club history:
Dec. 13, 1900 – Auto Club is established by 10 “horseless carriage” enthusiasts.
1904 – First permanent office opens in room 307 of the O.T. Johnson Building in Los Angeles.
1909 – Touring Topics, the precursor to today’s Westways magazine, begins publication.
1911 – Touring Information Bureau opens to provide travel information, maps, and TourBooks to members.
1912 – Interinsurance Exchange begins providing low-cost auto insurance with the distinctive premise of returning unneeded funds to policyholders as premium savings.
1913 – First Auto Club branch office opens in the lobby of the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego.
1914 – Auto Club establishes “theft bureau” to assist police in stolen vehicle recovery.
1923 – Current headquarters at 2601 S. Figueroa Street opens.
1924 – The Club’s Highway Patrol Service – later the Service Patrol – begins driving Southland streets on regular routes to assist with breakdowns and hazards.
1925 – Emergency Road Service is offered free to all members for the first time.
1930-31 – Auto Club expeditions map a route for the International Pacific Highway from Alaska to Argentina.
1937 – An Auto Club report recommends limited-access “motorways” (freeways) as a means of reducing street congestion.
1940 – Los Angeles’ first freeways, the Arroyo Seco and Cahuenga parkways, open.
1942 – Club members volunteer to give rides to visiting servicemen as part of the Auto Club’s Service Motor Patrol during World War II. Other war-era efforts by the Auto Club include providing maps and cartographers to the armed services, and sign-posting for Southern California blackouts.
1950 – By its 50th birthday, the Auto Club is the world’s largest motor club, with 300,000 members.
1959 – A three-year construction boom for the Club results in 36 new or expanded branches.
1960 – The state Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board is created with a seat for the Auto Club.
1967 – Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center opens to conduct studies of vehicle emissions and performance.
1970 – The modern “TripTik” is introduced to help travelers plan road trips.
1973 – Auto Club tests alternative fuels and helps develop gas-efficient cars in response to the energy crisis.
1974 – The Commuter Computer, a joint effort by the Auto Club, TRW, and the Jet Propulsion Lab, starts matching carpoolers.
1983 – Auto Club membership surpasses 3 million.
1984 – Auto Club supports mandatory seat belt law, which helps reduce crash injuries by 40 percent over the next 13 years.
1991 – Auto Club’s Interinsurance Exchange is first major auto insurer to provide Prop. 103 rebates.
1997 – Auto Club develops and sponsors legislation establishing the Graduated Driver’s License, imposing stricter driver training requirements for teens. After taking effect in 1998, the law results in a 24 percent reduction in at-fault crashes for 16-year-old drivers.
1999 – Online travel reservations are made available to members.
2000 – By the time of the Auto Club’s Centennial, nearly 5 million Southern Californians are members.
2001 – The first Auto Club Driving School for teens opens in Long Beach; Auto Club sponsors an enhanced
child passenger law requiring children under age 6 or under 60 pounds to ride in booster seats.
2005 – The “CarFit” program is added to assist mature drivers in staying on the road safely.
2009 – AAA offers the original version of its app for mobile devices.
2015 – The Auto Club now serves more than 6.5 million members in Southern California and together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, provides AAA member services in nearly one-quarter of the U.S.