Welcome to the Tupelo Automobile Museum,
home of one of the largest automobile collections in North America. You’ll see over one hundred
antique, classic, and collectible automobiles. Displayed chronologically, our collection illustrates
the changes in automobile design and engineering for over 120 years. Your self-guided tour
begins with an 1886 Benz, representing the birth of the automobile, and culminates with
a 2011 Toyota Corolla, one of the first built at the newly-opened Toyota Motor Manufacturing
Mississippi plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi. The Museum is proud to have a rare ’58 Toyopet
Crown Deluxe, the first vehicle model that Toyota offered to the United States market,
as the newest addition to our historical collection. The collection, now valued at over ten million
dollars, includes a Tucker, a Duesenberg, a Stanley Steamer, and many other rare favorites.
Before you begin your tour, here’s a look at the man whose love of design, mechanics, and electronics
took him around the globe to gather this phenomenal collection of automobiles. Frank Spain
was born in 1927 in North Lewisburg, Ohio. At the height of the Depression, his family moved
to the Tupelo area. His mother was an elementary school teacher, most notably Elvis Presley’s fourth
grade teacher. His father was a funeral director with his own business, the Spain Funeral Home.
Frank developed an early interest and talent for engineering. While a high
school student, he helped build and operate the local AM radio station, serving as chief
engineer on a part-time basis. At age nineteen, Frank graduated with honors from Mississippi State
University with a degree in electrical engineering. Upon graduation, he moved to Washington, D.C.
where he worked for the NBC network as a member of the network’s research
and development “field group”. There his job was to broadcast the first live television
programs from the White House, the Capitol, and other Washington landmarks. His team’s
success made television history and included the first live broadcast of a presidential
inauguration—that of Harry Truman. Spain then moved to New York, where he worked on NBC’s
research team that developed the technology standard for U.S. color television. In 1950, Spain
joined the U.S. Navy and proudly served as an electronics officer for two years. All along,
though, Spain wanted to bring his broadcast expertise back to northeast Mississippi.
In 1953 he successfully petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to
assign Tupelo its first television station. Television equipment was big and expensive
in those days, and money was tight. So Frank Spain rolled up his sleeves to design
and hand-build the antenna, transmitter, cameras, and all of the ancillary equipment needed
to put a new television station on the air. The station began broadcasting as NBC affiliate
WTWV (now WTVA) on March 18, 1957, and continues today under Spain family ownership.
At one time, he also owned television stations in Meridian, Mississippi; West Palm Beach,
Florida; and Flagstaff, Arizona. In 1959, Spain pioneered the use of microwaves to
carry distant signals to cable systems and broadcasters. At its peak, Microwave Service Company
carried signals throughout twelve states. This led Spain to join Jack Goeken and Bill McGowan
in a venture that eventually became MCI. In 2005, Spain was inducted into the National Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences Golden Circle and was honored with a special Emmy for his fifty-plus
years of contributions to the broadcast industry. While Spain continued his career as a successful broadcaster
and engineer, his love for classic automobiles deepened. In 1974 he acquired and restored his first classic automobile.
Spain, along with colleague Max Berryhill, another broadcast engineer, spent many years researching, locating, and gathering our
150 car collection from all over North America and Europe. Initially the vehicles were stored throughout the United States,
but Spain was determined to assemble his collection in one location so he could share it with the public.
After careful consideration of many possible venues and the enthusiastic support from the city and
then-mayor Larry Otis, he chose Tupelo. Construction of the nonprofit Museum began in late 2001.
Berryhill and Spain designed the 120,000 square foot museum to complement Tupelo’s downtown redevelopment plans while
optimizing display, restoration, and operating efficiency. On December 7, 2002, the Tupelo Automobile Museum officially opened. In 2003, it was designated the official
State of Mississippi Automobile Museum. Berryhill served as the Museum’s first
curator until his retirement in 2007. When asked to share the secret of his success,
Spain would consistently reply, “The luckiest people in the world are the ones
who have been able to make it to a ripe old age, having loved every minute of what they have done.”
Frank Spain did just that until his death in 2006 at the age of 78. The Museum is owned by a nonprofit educational foundation, dedicated
to preserving and sharing the collection for decades to come. Ever-changing special events and temporary exhibits
complement our core collection throughout the year. Future displays will include Spain’s extensive
electronics and world-class map collections. Thank you for visiting the Tupelo Automobile Museum!