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The First (& Slowest) American Car Race

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Frank and Charles Duryea, 1895

Taking nearly 10 hours to race 54 miles, it’s not exactly what we would think of today as a race; more like an amble.  But the Chicago-Times Herald race goes down in history as the first automobile race in America, and it took place on this day in 1895, which that year was Thanksgiving Day, from Chicago to Evanston and back.  The race had been delayed from an earlier date because at the time, it was forbidden for cars to drive on city streets (likely because they were loud and would frighten the numerous horses, causing traffic chaos).  Once the organizers convinced the city council to permit the cars on the roads, the race took off.

We think of cars as being four-wheeled; but aside from 4 four-wheeled cars in the race (3 of which were German Benz cars, the 4th being a motorized wagon driven by Frank Duryea and made by Charles Duryea, founder of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, and inventor of the first working  gasoline-powered car in America), there were 2 two-wheeled “automobiles”, but these motorized cycles lacked the power to climb the steeper passages.  An electric car was also entered in the race, but because of the cold weather, its battery died before getting very far.

One Benz car struck a horse just after taking off, and was forced out of the race, leaving just three cars; Duryea’s car won the day, with a time of 7 hours and 53 minutes (making his average time 7 mph / 11 km/h). The second car made it in 1 & 1/2 hours later, and the third never made it.  The driver of the second car had fallen unconscious due to exposure in the open vehicle and the cold weather, and the car was driven across the finish line by one of the race’s umpires.

The race was widely publicized, and predicted the demise of horse-drawn transport; it sped up the production of motorized vehicles, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Information source:  Wikipedia

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