Did you know that the first automobile race in the United States was sponsored by the newspaper, the Chicago Times-Herald, and took place in 1895? The first gasoline-powered American car was built just 2 years before in 1893. Since cars were so new, they did not have an official word for this new machine; they finally decided to call it a ‘moto cycle’ race. The race course was 54 miles long. Frank Duryea’s car finished the race first in 10 hours and 23 minutes. The race inspired automobile designers and jump started the age of automobiles in the United States.
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Moto cycle was an early term for an automobile. ‘Horseless carriage’ was another term, but the editors of the Chicago Times-Herald were looking for a better word to describe these new machines and settled on ‘moto cycle’.
The first gasoline-powered American car was built by the Duryea brothers in 1893. It was tested in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 21, 1893.
Prizes for the race totaled up to $5000, about $144,000 currently.
The original race course was supposed to stretch from Chicago to Milwaukee, but these early models of cars could not travel on the rough condition of the roads. So the course was shortened to a stretch between Chicago and Evanston, Illinois.
83 cars entered the race, but only 6 competed. Some cars were not completely built in time for the race, others broke down or were damaged en route to the race. 3 of the vehicles were made by Karl Benz. 2 vehicles were two-wheeled automobiles. 1 was made by Frank Duryea. 1 was electric powered (but it’s battery did not work in the cold weather).
Some of the cars that did arrive on time were stopped by police as they drove into the city. The police said they did not have permission to drive on city streets. They had to procure horses to pull the cars through town until the race organizers could convince city leaders to give the vehicles the right to drive on city streets.
The day of the race was cold (38 F), snowy, wet, and muddy.
The only two vehicles to finish were Frank Duryea’s car and the Benz vehicle entered by H. Mueller & Co. At the end of the race, the judged declared that none of the entrants had finished the race according to the rules. None of the vehicles kept to the course. Some of the cars broke down during the race and had to be repaired by a blacksmith. Others got stuck and had to be pushed by spectators. The prize money was awarded to all of the vehicles that participated in the race.
The Duryea car was destroyed at some point, but the second car to complete the race is on display in the Mueller Museum in Decatur, Illinois.
The race also inspired the creation of the first American automotive club, the American Motor League and a trade publication, Motocycle.