KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Cadillac has long been a symbol of style, sophistication, and success for more than 100 years. Imagine being the first to own one in Knoxville.

It was the talk of the town back then, and after all these years, it still shines at the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum.

The ruby red paint still shines. The tires still have tread.

“There’s actually still oil in the engine,” said Rebecca P’Simer, curator of collections at the Historical Society and Museum.

The original horsehair seats show their true age. The brass headlights were fueled by kerosene, reminding us this automotive artifact is 120 years old.

“This is a 1902 Cadillac Model A,” P’Simer said. “It was one of the first models that Cadillac actually came out with.”

It was ordered straight from Detroit in 1902 by Knoxville dentist Reuben N. Kesterson.

“They shipped it to Cincinnati on the railroad, he picked it up and (he) and his son drove it through East Tennessee, just kind of showing it off,” P’Simer explained.

The museum takes great care of this star attraction, a highlight of its East Tennessee tourism exhibit. Cars like this have sold at auction for well more than six figures; a far cry from the cost of a brand new Cadillac back in the day.

“It was about $750 for the 2-seater, $850 for the 4-seater which is this one,” P’Simer said,”Today that would be a little more than $21,000. So a chunk of change back then!”

Kesterson’s dentist office was in the East Tennessee National Bank Building on Gay Street. He was believed to be the first college-educated dentist in the city.

He got a lot of attention for being the first to own one of the first Cadillacs ever made, and he got to enjoy it for several years before his death in 1931.

You can see the exhibit, on loan from the Kesterson family, at the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum in downtown Knoxville.

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