America’s First Race: The Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895.

The 1895 Chicago Times-Herald Race.

The 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race was the first organized motorsport event on states’ soil.  It was almost a failure.

H. H. Kohlstaat, an employee of the newspaper, happened to pick up a copy of a Parisian publication that May.  The publication was L’Illustration and contained an account–presumably with illustrations–of the Paris to Bordeaux race which had just taken place.  He called the editor into his office, a man by the name of Frederick “Grizzly” Adams, where they discussed bringing motorsport to America.

English: Mueller-Benz car entered in the Chica...
English: Mueller-Benz car entered in the Chicago Times-Herald car race of 1895. Seated are the Race Officials of Col. Marshall I. Ludington, Henry Timken, C.P. Kimball, with driver Oscar B. Mueller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. Kohlsaat wrote, in a 1941 article for The Saturday Evening Post, “Adams was enthusiastic and at once drew up a plan which I endorsed and published.”  Recognizing the possible military importance of the so called automobile (variously referred to as a “motocycle” among other terms), President Cleveland was consulted.  Under the direction of a General Wesley Merritt, a testing rig was even set up to see which of the vehicles performed best under load.  The race was initially set for July 4, 1895.

An Independence Day Failure.

According to Kohlsaat, “When July Fourth arrived, there was only one machine ready–the Haynes-Apperson of Kokomo, Indiana.”  Recognizing the impossibility of a one-man race, the race was rescheduled for Labor Day, in September.

The September date was also postponed.  The race was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895.

The Pre-Race.

Patent Drawing for the Duryea Road Vehicle, 06...
Patent Drawing for the Duryea Road Vehicle, 06/11/1895. This is the printed patent drawing of the road vehicle invented by Charles E. Duryea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Presumably to help generate interest for the main event, a minor event was hosted by The Chicago-Times Herald in early November 1895.  The race was a simple trial between two cars.  Competing were the H. Mueller Benz Gasoline Motor (of Decatur, Illinois) and the Duryea Gasoline Motor Wagon (of Springfield, Massachusetts ).

The race was set at a lengthy 92 miles, from Washington Park in Chicago to Waukegan, Illinois and back to the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park.

Mr. Mueller won a staggering–for the time–$500 for making the trip in 9.5 hours.  His competitor, Mr. Duryea was not so lucky.  According to Mr. Kohlsaat’s Saturday Evening Post Article:

“The Duryea motor ran into a ditch to avoid a farmer who turned his horses to the left instead of the right.  He said, he was so scared to see a buggy without any horses hitched to it coming up to the road behind him, he did not know what he was doing.  To avoid a collision, Mr. Duryea, who was driving this motor, drove into the ditch, hopping to climb up the slight embankment, but broke a wheel and gave up the race.”

The Main Event.

The race, on Thanksgiving day, was preceded the night before by two to three inches of snow.  Sixty-some contestants had signed up; however, only six made it to the starting line.  Having repaired his vehicle. Mr. Duryea was one of them.  H. Mueller’s car was also there.  The other four included the gasoline-engined cars of the De La Vergne Refridgerator Machine Company, and the R. H. Macy company.  Shockingly, two electric vehicles also made it to the starting line (The Sturges Electric (Chicago) and The Morris and Salon (Philadelphia).

Leading up to the race, there was even a bit of trash-talking.  The newspaper editor of the Times-Herald commented:

“The Paris-Bordeaux race was worthless from a scientific standpoint, but the contest of today may result in the established of good data concerning what many believe the vehicle of the future.”

The electric cars failed to make it very far and were quickly out of the race.  At the first relay station, the R. H. Macy carriage was in the lead.  However, the Duryea, although 20 minutes behind, was charging hard.

America's First Automobile Race map
America’s First Automobile Race map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the cars reached Evanston, spectator interest in the contest remained high and their were plenty of folks cheering and watching.  At that point, the R. H. Macy machine held the lead, but only slightly.

A slight incline was noted at Forest Avenue up to Chicago Avenue.  The crowds cheered as the cars trundled up the minor hill.

The Macy car had a close call with a horse-drawn taxi that failed to give the appropriate right-of-way.

By the time the remaining handful of cars reached Douglas Park, it was getting dark and much colder.  In fact, as the cars hit California Avenue, there was not a single spectator left.  The race of attrition was failing to keep an audience on hand to see the progress.

In the end, the R. H. Macy car broke down and failed to finish the race.  The Duryea won.  The only other finisher was the Mueller car, in second place.

In general, due to the lack of spectators and the fact that only two spectators finished, the race was a bit of a failure.  The Times-Herald barely gave but only minimal lines to the discussion of race results.  Perhaps not as magnificent as the early European city to city races, the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald Race brought motorsport to North America.

 

///Travis Turner of GPevolved.

Sources:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949)

H. H. Hohlsaat, America’s First Horseless Carriage Race, 1895; The Saturday Evening Post (January 5, 1941)

Various Articles from The Horseless Carriage, Volume 1 (1895) (available through google books).

1895: Paris to Bordeaux and Back.

“Who has ever attended a gathering of motoring enthusiasts for any purpose, whether it be at a race, or a hill-climb, or outside a Court of Justice, without noticing the feeling of brotherhood which seems to pervade the atmosphere?”  —Gerald Rose.

Following the success of the 1894 Paris to Rouen trial, another contest was organized for 1895.  This race  was to be pure race (although the cars were still to be started in interval fashion).  The winning prize was top be split 50 percent to first place, 20 percent for second place, 10 percent for third prize, and five percent each for fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.  Additional rules included a provision that a manufacturer could not enter more than one car of identical design and drivers could be changed en route for the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race.

Panhard et Levassor's Daimler motor carriage, 1894
Panhard et Levassor’s Daimler motor carriage, 1894 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, spectators were given easy access to the cars; a tradition long since forgotten in motorsport.  Gerald Rose commented:

“It was an excellent idea, as it not only afforded those interested an opportunity of examining the cars both before and after the race, but also gave those makers who had not had time to complete their tests a chance to bring before the public possibilities offered by their vehicles.”

In modern parlance, it was good to give the crowd an opportunity to check out the new rides and helped sell a few cars too.

1895 Paris to Bordeaux Race

The race itself started on June 11, 1895 at 9:00 am.  The race started under the Arc de Triomphe.  Some of the cars, such as the Peugeot Number 16, driven by Koechlin, had some difficulty getting out of the city center.  This was a result of the “rough pavé.”

Initially, the steam cars started strong led by the De Dion steam brake number 3, followed by an older “omnibus” made by Bollée.  The De Dion steam car was in trouble soon thereafter with a broken driveshaft.  This allowed the number 5 Panhard et Levassor, driven by Mr. Levassor himself, to take the lead.  Remember, there were no HID headlights, in these days; the competitors were tasked with driving through the night using unreliable oil lamps.

Nevertheless, between 8:45 ppm and 5:30 am, the next morning, Levassor kept a strong pace of around 15 miles per hour.  Of note, this is nearly a 25 percent increase over the pace of the prior years’ race.  Records indicate that there was a close battle for second, third, and fourth with car numbers 8, 6, and 15.  They passed and re-passed each other throughout the night.

1895 Peugeot in Paris to Bordeaux race.
1895 Peugeot in Paris to Bordeaux race.

According to Rose, “Levassor reached Bordeaux at 10:40 am, signed on at the control, turned his car, and started off at once for the journey back to Paris.”  In my mind, this qualifies Mr. Levassor as a proper driver, one consumed by the desire for speed, quickness, and ultimate victory.  This inference is supported by the fact that he would not allow another driver to replace him, in spite of being at the wheel in excess of 24 hours.  He stopped roughly every 60 miles for water and supplies.  Other than that, he could not be stopped, except for a single 22 minute stoppage on the return trip.

46 cars entered the 1895 Paris to Bordeaux to Paris race.  22 actually started the race.  11 of those cars reached the midpoint at Bordeaux.  Of those 11, 9 completed the entire pace.  The final results of the top five were as follows:

  1. Mr. Levassor; Panhard et Levassor; Petrol; 48:48; 15.0 miles per hour.
  2. Mr. Rigoulot; Peugeot; Petrol: 54:35; 13.4 miles per hour.
  3. Mr. Koechlin; Peugeot; Petrol; 59:48; 12.2 miles per hour.
  4. Mr. Doriot; Peugeot; Petrol; 64:30; 11.3 miles per hour.
  5. Unknown driver (Car #12); Peugeot; Petrol; 72.14; 10.1 miles per hour.

 

Sources:

Gerald Rose, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908 (1949)

Robert Dick, Mercedes and Auto Racing in the Belle Epoque: 1895 – 1915 (2005)

1894 Paris to Rouen Trial: The (arguable) Origin of Motorsport.

1894 Paris to Rouen Trial

As noted by Gerald Rose, in his classic, A Record of Motor Racing: 1894 – 1908, organized motorsport is generally regarded to have begun with the “Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux.”  This horseless carriage contest was organized by Le Petit Journal, a Parisian publication.

However, Rose notes, “It is not correct to describe the Petit Journal Competition as the first race for two very excellent reasons: – First, it was not a race, and secondly, it was not the first open contest for self-propelled vehicles on the open road.”

Again, according to Gerald Rose, a man by the name of Fossier organized a competition for the “vélocipede” in 1887.  It took place in Paris, which during the Belle Epoque, was a cultural and technological leader for all of Europe.  However, only one car showed up.  As is fairly obvious, a one-man race is not much of a race at all.  The only participant was the Count de Dion.  Count de Dion would prove to be one of the central figures of early motorsport.  In fact, he was fundamental in the creation of a national French auto club, which eventually morphed into the FIA.

Between 1887 and 1894, the petrol/internal combustion engine made significant progress.  The most significant of which was the infamous patent by Mr. Daimler, in Germany.  This progress was massive as compared to the relatively weak development of the steam engine.  The steam engine had been in use for some time; however, these vehicles were largely suited to business use, such as transportation of goods around a city-center.  Not only were the poor candidates for flying through the countryside, but they did not capture the imagination in the same manner of the comparatively smaller, faster, and sportier internal combustion engine.

In fact, Mr. Fossier’s 1887 race set the mold for the early races.  These early races were not just for bragging rights.  Rather, they were explicitly designed to promote the useful development of the self-propelled vehicle.  Unfortunately, it failed.

By 1894, there were enough self-propelled vehicles around Paris to contemplate another contest.  Mr. Pierre Gifford, writing under a nom de plume (as was oddly fashionable at the time), wrote up the idea of another self-propelled vehicle contest in Le Petit Journal on December 19, 1893.  The next day, on December 20, 1893, a simple contest was proposed.  The rules, according to Gerald Rose had but about 10 different strictures.

Of these simple rules, only a few are important for the purposes of this article:

  • Judges were to be the staff of the Petit Journal with “a number of consulting engineers.”
  • First prize was to be awarded to the car “which seemed to the Judges to best fulfill the conditions of being ‘without danger, easily handled, and of low running cost.’”
  • To be admitted into the actual race, each car was to complete a preliminary trial of 50 kilometers in three hours.  This was later changed to completing the 50 km. course in four hours, due to the perceived danger of even 10 miles per hour.
  • The finish, coachwork, paint, and general visual appeal of each car was “immaterial.”
  • The only technical requirement was that each car be able to move under its own power.

 

The entry list for participation in the preliminary trials closed on April 30, 1894.  There were 102 entries ranging from conventional steam cars to primitive internal combustion engines to the absolutely absurd.  For example, the entry list contains cars that would supposedly be powered by gravity, compressed air, the weight of passengers, mineral oil, a system of levels, and even a system of pendulums.  Certainly, these entries never came to fruition.

As for the race itself, it was more of a casual trundle than an all-out ten-tenths wheel-to-wheel action-fest.  Based upon the approximated records (exact times were not recorded), not a single car was able to crack an average exceeding 12 miles per hour.

There was a compulsory break for lunch.  This served an additional purpose of allowing the spectators the opportunity to examine the cars – a tradition in motorsport long since lost, many generations ago.

The fastest car was the Count de Dion in his De Dion “steam tractor” (the passengers were carried in a separate trailer).  However, internal combustion engines were starting to come on strong.  In fact, except for de Dion’s tractor, every petrol car beat every steam-powered car.

As for the petrol cars, the Peugeot’s of Mr. Lemaitre and Mr. Doriot were faster than the Panhard’s of Mr. Panhard and Mr. Levassor (each driving a car of their own marque).

Remember, this was not a contest of pure speed.  Moreover, de Dion’s large steam tractor fell outside the intent of the contest.  Accordingly, the firm of De Dion, Bouton et Cie were only awarded the second prize.

The grand prize, as it were, was awarded equally to the firms of Panhard and Levassor and Le Fils de Peugeot Freres (The Sons of the Peugeot Brothers).  It is certainly worth noting that both of these manufactures were using engines “of the type invented by Herr Daimler of Wurtenburg.”

As a footnote, Panhard and Levassor would continue to license the Daimler engine for many years to come.  In fact, it was not until much later, with the advent of the “Mercedes” brand, that the German marque sold cars directly to France.  The reasons for this are both peculiar and legal in nature; however, it is a story I will reserve for a later post.

The importance of the 1894 Paris to Rouen trial is clear.  While it may have not have been the first organized motorsport event, it remains accepted as the first successful trial in which numerous cars competed as a public spectacle.

Even more important, this event marks the installation of the internal combustion engine as a meaningful means of transport.  The public nature of the trial is further significant because this 1894 Paris to Rouen trial put French high-society on notice that internal combustion vehicles could be, well, cool.  In just a few short years, successful Parisians and member of the “Riviera class” were snapping up race-winning cars for many times the cost to produce them.

 

/Travis Turner of GPevolved.