Frank Duryea won America’s first automobile race on Thanksgiving Day today in 1895 after racing some 54 miles from Chicago’s Jackson Park to Evanston, Illinois. Now WE know em

Frank Duryea (left) and Arthur Rice, at the first auto race in the United States Thanksgiving Day 1895

Frank Duryea (left) and Arthur Rice, at the first auto race in the United States Thanksgiving Day 1895

On July 10, 1895, The Chicago Times-Herald announced they would sponsor the first automobile race to be held in the United States.

The Chicago Times-Herald race would have a winning prize of $5,000 (over $140,000 in today’s money).

The first commercial motorized vehicles were so new (less than a year in fact), that no one knew exactly what to call them (automobile had not yet been used to describe the vehicles).

The newspaper wanted the race to be held in the city of Chicago to foster growth of the young auto industry as well as boost newspaper sales.

In a July 15, 1895 article the newspaper referred to the race as a Moto-Cycle Race (motorcycles had been introduced only two years earlier).

The newspaper also considered utilizing a race course that started in Chicago and ran north to Milwaukee, but the roads were found to be too poor for the vehicles to traverse.

The final decision set the race course over a route of some 54 miles from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois and back again.


The finish line was laid out near the Palace of Fine Arts that had been built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (near what is now the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry).

The race was intended to be held on November 2, 1895 but few vehicles showed up.

Elwood Haynes, an early inventor and pioneer of the earliest automobiles made in America, intended to race however his vehicle was damaged en route and was unable to make it to Chicago.

Many of the registered vehicles were not ready to run.

Then the driver of a Karl Benz car, was stopped by police while driving into the city. The driver was informed that he had no right to drive on city streets and he needed to requisition horses to pull the vehicle to the starting area.

The situation forced the race to be postponed while the Times-Herald tried to convince city leaders to pass an ordinance to confirm the right of these vehicles to travel on city streets.

Once the ordinance was passed, the race was rescheduled for Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895.

Race Day

Of the 83 vehicles that had registered, only 7 arrived for the actual race on Thanksgiving Day.

The day was snowy and 38 °F, the roads muddy, with snow drifts in places.

The first vehicle to arrive was the same German made car by inventor Karl Benz that had been stopped by police on its way to the first scheduled race.

In total, 3 Benz four-wheeled cars showed up for the race.

The only other four-wheeled car to run in the race was Charles Duryea’s motorized wagon.

The two other vehicles that showed up were two-wheeled.

Soon after the race got started, one of the Benz vehicles struck a horse and was forced to drop out of the race.

Another vehicle was electric-powered, and its battery died because of the cold weather before getting very far.

Then the 2 “motorcycles” lacked the power to climb one of the course’s grades and were forced out to the race.

That left 3 vehicles that made it to Evanston, Illinois as they began the return leg of the race.

On the return trip the Charles Duryea vehicle began to take the lead.

One of the Benz vehicles driven by Oscar B. Mueller had to change drivers for the return trip because Mueller fell unconscious from exposure. Charles Brady King, originally and umpire for the race took the wheel and set out in pursuit of Duryea.

Then 7 hours and 53 minutes after the start of the race, Charles Duryea and his vehicle crossed the finish line winning the race after traveling an average of 7 mph.

Charles King driving the Benz for Mueller finished an hour and a half later for second place.

Mueller/King 2nd place vehicle

Mueller/King 2nd place vehicle

None of the other vehicles finished.

Soon, newspapers across the country carried stories about the race and many predicted the coming demise of horse-borne transportation, citing the cars’ ability to travel even in poor weather.

Today, the race is considered to have sped up the rate of automobile development by at least 5 years in the United States due to publicity from the event.

Now WE know em



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