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).

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