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Passion for autos fuels career

  Alumni Profile  

When Curt McConnell ’81 first picked up The Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942, he never dreamed it would inspire numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and five books.

“It just intrigued the heck out of me,” says McConnell. But the book didn’t go far enough for the former Cornellian editor. So, like any good journalist, he checked into it. “The thing that I gradually awakened to was that there was a large chunk of U.S. automotive history that nobody knew about,” he says.

McConnell’s first book, Great Cars of the Great Plains (1995 University of Nebraska Press), looked at the history of five early Midwestern automobile companies. The book earned McConnell the Antique Automobile Club of America’s Thomas McKean Memorial Cup.

Emboldened by the success of his first book, McConnell researched early cross-country auto trips. Starting with New York Times articles and retracing the trips through automobile magazines, local papers, and historical societies, he accumulated enough research to fill four subsequent books, including The Record-Setting Trips: By Auto from Coast to Coast, 1909-1916, released in April by Stanford University Press.

His favorite work, however, remains unpublished. Wanting to get out from behind his desk, McConnell— son of Campbell McConnell ’50, author of a top-selling economics textbook — spent two summers traversing the continent on back roads in his 1939 Plymouth coupe, taking pictures and chronicling the trip on his portable Royal typewriter.

“The thing that I loved about Cornell,” says McConnell, whose niece enrolled at Cornell last fall, “was that they didn’t have a journalism program. I learned a lot by just wading in and making mistakes.”

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