Duryea Motor Wagon Wins First Car Race In America – 11/28/1895

US History |


While race car fans rejoice every year when NASCAR begins their racing season, it must be hard to imagine a time when car racing was not part of the norm. In fact, car racing in the United States did not exist until the late 1800s. Before the twentieth century arrived, two brothers worked on what was called a “horseless carriage” that was powered through the use of gas in an attempt to make history.

Frank Duryea was an inventor, mechanic and now a race car driver of his brother’s design that would be victorious in the U.S. original motor-car race on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. The Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the race to build up publicity for the Nascent American vehicle industry. The event was a success especially for the Duryea’s brothers as by the time of the first anniversary of the Times-Herald race was celebrated, 13 of the eponymous Motor Wagons were sold by the brothers which exceeded that of any makers of cars in America.

Originally, the course of the race was assumed to have looped from Chicago to Waukegan, Illinois and back (a dangerous 92 mile-stretch); however, the race organizers scrambled to modify the route due to the surprisingly arrival of a huge blizzard. A journalist later said, “With eight inches of snow, Waukegan might as well have been Timbuktu.” The new racing field was shortened to driving only around 50 miles and started from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois and back again. The rules remained the same which was cars were required to have a minimum of three wheels that must be covered in twine to be able to provide traction in the snow. Also, the vehicle must be fitted to carry a minimum of two individuals which was an umpire appointed by race officials to make sure no cheating was being done and for the driver.

Unfortunately, the terrible weather had an impact on the race regarding to those who wished to participate as of the 89 racers scheduled to participate; only six were able to race. The six racers included the Duryea vehicle, three cars that were Benz, one car sponsored by Macy’s located in New York and two electric cars that when the race started almost immediately stopped as a result of dead batteries.

The race lasted ten hours with the end marked by Duryea’s car crossing over the finish line first. The only other vehicle to complete the race was one of the three Benz cars which sloshed across the finish line two hours later. Sadly, the one representing the Macy’s from New York ran into trouble as it struck a streetcar as it approached Evanston as well as colliding with a sleigh and also a hack during the return trip. Although $2,000 was the prize for first place, the big reward was the publicity that made the brothers the American motor-car company. This would mark that all those who would follow in the Duryea’s footsteps; automobile manufacturing was no longer a hobby but an actual profiting business.

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