What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.”
Thomas Sabin provided transportation between Providence and Boston “or elsewhere” for his clients, but he marketed an experience (not unlike modern car manufacturers and airlines). According to his advertisement, the important part of a trip was not necessarily arriving at the destination. Instead, enjoying the journey itself, including the amenities of his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE,” transformed getting from here to there into an event itself.
This was no ordinary “four wheeled Carriage,” Sabin proclaimed. A variety of factors, including its “wonderful and most elegant Construction,” merited an equally wonderful and most elegant name – the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE” – that distinguished it from any of the other carriages, coaches, chaises, phaetons, and, especially, stage wagons common in colonial America.
Sabin conjured up images of practically gliding from place to place, compared to the bumpy ride passengers experienced when using other wheeled vehicles. “It is airy, and more easy than any other Carriage,” he explained. “It would be almost impossible to describe it’s uncommon Machinery in Words, so as to give an adequate Idea of its Ease and Use.” Sabin implicitly challenged readers with doubts about the accuracy of this hyperbolic description to engage his services and judge for themselves, a crafty way to generate more business.
He also deployed another strategy to encourage the curious to become customers. “Those who are not inclined to ride in it, and desire to see it, shall be waited upon by the Owner to view it, when in his Coach House, gratis.” Once Sabin had potential customers in his “Coach House” and was able to speak to them directly, he could work on convincing them to hire his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” It’s difficult to know Sabin conducted himself in person, but it’s possible he could have given the same sort of hard sell that modern consumers encounter when they visit car dealerships.
At the very least, Sabin assured clients that they would receive special treatment when they rode the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” He promised that “besides the Satisfaction of being conveyed in so convenient a Machine,” customers “may depend upon the most ready Observance of their Desires, and punctual Compliance with their Commands.” For colonists, this would have been the equivalent of hiring a limousine or flying first class.