I have a question for all you enthusiasts. How are Thanksgiving and cars related? No, I don’t mean hopping in the family car for the long expected drive to grandma’s house for that great turkey dinner.
I am referring to an event on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895, six (motocycles) an early name for automobiles, started on the Chicago Times-Herald Race, America’s first automobile race to Evanston, Illinois. Beyond Chicago’s city limits only the builders and owners of cars seemed interested, but the race was perhaps the event that brought attention to the birthing of America’s auto industry.
Herman H. Kohlsaat, publisher of theChicago Times-Herald, announced plans for the Chicago race after reading about the Paris-Bordeaux race in June 1895. He designated $5,000 for prize money and $5,000 for necessary expenses. As part of the promotion for the race, the Times-Herald offered a prize of $500 for the best name suggested for the horseless vehicle. The name motocycle was awarded the prize in lieu of automobile.
The original race was scheduled for November 2, but of the 76 prospective entries listed only two cars appeared on that date. The publisher postponed the race to Thanksgiving Day. On that date, Chicago awakened to find the ground and rooftops covered with four inches of snow. This was an unfortunate event for Elwood Haynes and Elmer Apperson of Kokomo, Indiana. Their new Pioneer II automobile skidded in the snow and broke a wheel in an attempt to avoid a streetcar track rut while making its way to the starting line. With no spare available, their hopes to compete ended. However, the Haynes-Apperson entry did receive a $150 prize for its meritorious design feature — the reduction of vibration by balancing the engine.
Two electric and four gasoline motocycles awaited the starting gun in Jackson Park. The two electric vehicles were not serious contenders, because their owners had not been able to arrange for recharging stations along the route. Three of the gasoline vehicles were Benz cars imported from Germany. The fourth gasoline machine was the Duryea Motor Wagon built in Springfield, Massachusetts, and driven by J. Frank Duryea.
Lots were drawn to see who would be sent off first. Duryea won and was off at 8:55 a.m. The R.H. Macy & Company owned Benz passed Duryea for the lead in the early running. Duryea regained the lead by the halfway mark in Evanston and passed the second relay station at North Clark and Devon Avenue at a good rate. Less than 50 people saw the late stages of the race when Duryea finished at 7:19 p.m. The H. Mueller & Company owned Benz crossed the finish line second at 8:53 p.m.
The Duryea car won $2,000 for first place, with the Mueller-Benz receiving $1,500 for second place. They were the only cars to finish.
The Chicago Times-Herald Race revealed the possibilities of the automobile. On the day after the race thousands of people read the newspaper accounts and began to consider the prospect of being able to drive a car. Volume 1, Number 1, of The Horseless Age in November 1895, reported “Those who have taken the pains to search below the surface for the great tendencies of the age, know that a giant industry is struggling into being.”
It is interesting to think that America’s infatuation with automobiles probably started on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. That’s one reason why I’m thankful. Happy Turkey Day.
For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.