America’s First Automobile Race


Galen Handy

Street names and addresses are correct for the period; they are often different from current names and numbers (Chicago streets were re-numbered 1908-11).

Chicago: the 1890s                                      Version 3.9


The World’s Columbian Exposition ushered the Twentieth Century into North America. The Fair was held from May 1st to October 30th, 1893. Originally conceived as a quaternary celebration of Columbus’ departure from Spain in 1492; sailing for India by means of an imagined shortcut.

The US Congress dithered on whether to hold the event in New York or Chicago, forcing it into the following year. They eventually chose Chicago, the country’s second largest and fastest growing city, rebuilt in grand style following the great fire of 1871.


The impact of this exposition on the United States and the civilized world is inestimable. About a third of the U.S. population attended, and almost everyone who influenced American culture for the next two generations was deeply affected.


The World’s Columbian Exposition at night


Fairs since 1800 featured a growing number of electrical exhibits; at Chicago, electricity was the main event. Called the “White City” for the paint color and dazzling brightness of the lighting. It was the first to be lit entirely by electricity, with over 108,800 light bulbs and 4,663 arc lights. It had an entire building dedicated to electrical exhibits. The original Ferris wheel––Chicago’s answer to the 1889 Paris Exposition’s Eiffel Tower (both men were bridge designers)––dominated the Midway Plaisance; it was 264-feet high and lit with 3,000 incandescent bulbs.

The city of Chicago used Thomas Edison’s system of direct current electricity, which he had signed over to the Thomson-Huston Company’s management for stock and cash in 1892, forming General Electric (GE). Westinghouse won the contract to electrify the exposition by bidding the job at less than half the GE price. Even when GE resubmitted their bid at cost, the three-phase alternating current (AC) system had a lower build price, so AC powered the Exposition. Westinghouse generators, propelled by a variety of boiler and steam engine combinations, produced three times the electricity then used by the entire city of Chicago. This was the second commercial installation of Tesla’s new poly-phase alternating current system, which would eventually become the world standard.

Edison hated battery acid and alternating current; he shuffled around the fair, in a rumpled suit, arguing over the future of technology with other exhibitors. Nikola Tesla was appearing on a 25-foot square platform as part of the Westinghouse exhibit; trim, nattily attired, and doing what seemed like magic. Tesla used high-frequency high-voltage transformers to light up fluorescent materials, having no apparent connection to the energy source, while emitting sparks from his fingertips. To the audience––anything seemed possible in this new age.


Other than elevators and some railcars: Chicago was still motivated by muscle-powered transportation. The 630-acre fair grounds in Jackson Park were animated by electricity. An elevated electric train encircled the exhibits. On the lagoons floated fifty electric launches, a favored means of getting around the fair. In a city with no natural water pressure: electric pumps powered two sixty-foot diameter fountains, spraying water 150 feet into the air. There was even an (unreliable) electric moving sidewalk.


Nearly lost in the vast scale of the Exposition were several motor vehicles. In the Transportation Building was an electric London taxi prototype. Daimler Motorengesellschaft exhibited six gasoline “wagonettes,” a fire engine, and a boat. Karl Benz was showing a gasoline “Velo Éclair.” A pair of Keller-Degenhardt three-wheeled electric perambulators was parked in the Electrical Building.

Only two horseless carriages were moving about, one was a small steam-driven cart that was part of a novelty act on the Midway, the other was a six-passenger electric Surrey, frequently driven by a teenage Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan).


The Columbian Exposition marked our transition into the age of electricity as the vital exogenous factor in most human endeavors.


The Race


Two years after the fair closed, Chicago hosted a second event: it seemed a feeble echo, but what it led to eventually impacted America even more than the Columbian Exposition.

This event put the automobile into popular awareness, and was America’s first open entry motor vehicle race. The starting point was at the site of the Exposition in Jackson Park.



Looking west down the Midway Plaisance to Washington Park from the Ferris wheel during the Exposition. By the time of the race, the buildings, Ferris wheel, and carnival atmosphere, had been replaced by landscaping. The University of Chicago (and Marshall Field field) was off to the right; the Washington Park Club was just south of the large white hotel near the upper left corner.


By this time most of the fair’s grand buildings had been demolished, or destroyed by fire. A few fires occurred in January and February of 1894, with major destruction coming on July 5, 1894, when six buildings fell victim to the riots and conflagrations precipitated by Federal troops intervening in the Pullman railcar strike.


What makes sorting out the facts of this contest challenging, is that first person accounts are unreliable. People who saw the race, either as a snapshot as it went by, or as a long ordeal in one vehicle, rarely seeing another contestant, wrote them. Even if an author was not biased, most of the account was necessarily hearsay.

Other than newspaper reporters (who knew next to nothing about motor vehicles), these accounts were by participants looking to establish their place in what was becoming an important part of history. All were interested in stressing things that promoted their product or perspective.

Contemporaneous newspaper journalism was particularly suspect, as the event was launched by an aggressive publisher, in a highly competitive newspaper market, with a dozen daily papers, at a time when few newspapers had any pretense of objectivity.

The race spawned the first two automotive publications, the short-lived Motocycle, and The Horseless Age, published until its name became a simple statement of fact.


Herman Henry Kohlsaat made his fortune as a restaurateur, with a chain of 15¢-a-meal lunch counters, and a large central bakery. Kohlsaat’s kitchens had the capacity to meet some of the demand for bread and other foods at the Columbian Exposition, and he made a moderate fortune––that he married into––much greater. In 1895 he bought the Times-Herald newspaper. Kohlsaat hired the former publicity chief of the Columbian Exposition, “Major” Moses Purnell Handy, as editor.


Frederick Upham “Grizzly” Adams, of the distinguished Boston Massachusetts Adams family, was a man of multiple talents, as were so many of the people involved with the development of motor vehicles. He was trained as a machinist and draftsman, with some success as an inventor, novelist, and in pioneering railroad aerodynamics. In the 1890s, he was a Chicago newspaper reporter, and founding treasurer of the notorious Whitechapel Club.

June 1895 found Adams working for the Times-Herald. He approached Kohlsaat with reports of the 1894 Paris-Rouen exhibition run, 1895 Paris-Bordeaux road race, and of his activities locating American horseless carriage builders. Adams sold Kohlsaat on the opportunity to draw national attention to the newspaper by hosting a similar event in Chicago. Kohlsaat agreed that if Adams did the work, he would put up the money.

Although a few invitational contests between steam tractors had been run, this was the first open invitation street vehicle contest in the Americas, and the World’s third.

They wanted it to happen as soon as possible, certainly before winter set in. Adams looked into setting up the race on July 4th, an ideal day for weather, crowds, and publicity. As no collection of vehicles resembling an event could show up before October, and with potential participants begging for more time, and occasionally money, there was little choice but to fall back to November. On July 9th, when the paper announced their sponsorship, the event was scheduled for November 2nd. The course was to use public roads from Chicago to Milwaukee and back.

Kohlsaat pledged $5,000 in prize money, eventually adding up to $6,000; he probably spent another $9,000 on expenses.

For advance publicity, Adams created a contest to determine what to call the horseless carriages, “Automobile” was considered too French (they actually favored “Voiture”), and there was strong sentiment for an all-American term. George F. Shaver, of the New York Public Telephone Company, won the $500.00 prize by coming up with “Motocycle,” which the vehicles were called in most accounts. This word persisted briefly, until the majority of vehicles became less cycle like, and the name motorcycle, introduced around the same time, became universal for two-wheeled motor vehicles. At the turn of that century a bicycle was often called a “wheel” and a motor vehicle a “motor,” this has caused some confusion when an account states, “the motor broke down”; meaning the car, not the engine. For the privileged few that had an automobile in the family, it was often referred to as “the car,” but through the 1930s, “car” was more likely to mean a streetcar, at least among town folk.


Setting up the race, particularly on such short notice, with more than fifty potential entries pouring in, was a little overwhelming for Adams and the newspaper staff. Kohlsaat, who was politically involved as a Republican, and advocate of the gold standard, saw an opportunity to get wider recognition by making it a government sanctioned national event. He was a close friend of the next U.S. President William McKinley, and well known in Washington. He handed off official sponsorship to the United States Department of War, under the rubric of developing motor vehicles for gun carriages and troop transport. Similar to the role that DARPA currently occupies.

The task was assigned to Major-General Wesley Merritt. With Adams and Kohlsaat, he put together a staff of experts including: Carriage builder Henry Timken (who later invented the tapered roller-bearing,) Professor John Patrick Barrett, Dr. John Allan Hornsby (former chief and secretary of the Electric Exhibit at the Columbian Expo), Leland L. Summers (editor of Electrical Engineering), John Lundie, and carriage builder Charles Frederick Kimball (of the C P Kimball Carriage Co).


The missing element in these appointments was bicycle builders. Adams and Kohlsaat saw the paradigm as replacing the horse for street vehicles, as electricity was doing so successfully for city and suburban rail.

Coachbuilders were essentially furniture shops with a blacksmith out back. Most of them saw the motor vehicle as competition. At first, the carriage makers were happy supplying bodies to the mechanically oriented.

Bicycle manufacturers, facing market saturation, saw the horseless carriage as the next hot consumer item. More bicycle makers produced early automobiles than did buggy builders.


When they first entered the city, Elwood Haynes, and a few other potential contestants, were given tickets and ordered off the streets by policemen on bicycles. It was illegal to run a motor vehicle on the streets of Chicago, Another little detail to work out before the road race began.




The big event, heavily promoted for November 2nd, was to be a run from Jackson Park, via a 186-mile round-trip detour through Milwaukee, to the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park, about ten miles away.


John Barrett was appointed chairman of the test committee, with Leland Summers and John Lundie as the engineers. They designed a dynamometer to measure the actual output power of each vehicle. It was built by the Chicago City Railway Company, which ran the southside streetcars, and set up at the Washington Park Club, an exclusive private horse track located one block south of Washington Park, just over a mile from the starting line. Then, as weather worsened, it was moved into the new, yet to be occupied, Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company facility on Wabash Avenue. The Electrobat II was used to calibrate the dynamometer, as the horsepower delivered to the motor(s) in an electric vehicle is apparent by reading the meters; if one knows the system’s efficiency, horsepower output is an easy calculation.

By November 1st, eight running vehicles had mustered at the Washington Park Club.


A young Massachusetts machinist named J. Frank Duryea made the Duryea Buggyaut. A German Benz based car was championed by Oscar Mueller. Also moving about were the Electrobat II, made by Morris & Salom of Philadelphia, a Motor Cycle and two “Victorias” from Kane-Pennington, and the small electric buggy of the Columbia Perambulator Co. A good crowd watched the vehicles motor around the horse track, and three were tested on the Dynamometer. Strangely absent was the Morrison electric Surrey, now owned by Harold Sturges, which had been plying the streets of Chicago since August 11th of 1892.

At the end of the day, it was announced that a consolation event would be run on the scheduled day, with a truncated route and prize, a 92-mile trip to Waukegan and back for $500. The main event would wait for Thanksgiving.


Most Chicago roads were laid out to the compass; the ones running north/south, and located south of the Chicago River, were usually called Avenues, they roughly paralleled the lakeshore. Roads running east/west were generally called Streets. A few roads were off compass, often because they ran parallel to an established rail line, water channel, or Indian trail. The truncated race route followed the Boulevards, which connected the parks on Chicago’s west side like pendants on a necklace, then turned northwest up Milwaukee Avenue to Waukegan.


Gasoline “explosion engine” cars of this time were more like riding lawn mowers than like current automobiles. The ride comfort and horsepower are similar, though the lawnmower would be quieter, more powerful, and much more dependable. This was before invention of the high voltage spark plug, and ignition systems were quite crude and fussy. Carburetors were also rather rudimentary.


At 8:15, five cars showed up at the staging area, including the Duryea, Mueller-Benz, Electrobat II, and two Kane-Penningtons.

The Electrobat II was there to be admired, but did not participate.

Pennington, with his hot-air-engine cars, arrived at the start late. He announced that he “did not care to compete in the special contest, but would make a run over the Boulevard and across to Lincoln Park,” He reportedly didn’t make it that far. Simply returning to it’s garage from the starting line the Electrobat II made a run of similar distance.

Some thought his little cars would be unbeatable if Pennington was the source of hot air.


Fortunately, two of the entrants were prepared to do the test run.

First off the line was Oscar Mueller driving the Mueller-Benz, with Charles G. Reid and Steele F. Gilmore as his passengers. The Duryea Buggyaut left seven minutes later; its builder J. Frank Duryea driving, with his older brother Charles, who contributed several design elements, as passenger.


Race Marshal Frederick Adams, on horseback, escorted the two “motocyles” down the Midway in a motley parade. Reporters mingled with spectators on bicycles and in horse carriages, with some Illinois Central commuters on foot. By the end of the Midway the bunch had winnowed down to the contestants, Adams, and a carriage full of judges, along with reporters, route guides, and various cyclists. People were lined up along the way to watch.


The Duryea passed the Benz and was out of Washington Park first. They headed west on 55th St. (Garfield Boulevard) at 9:50, the Benz, which was struggling at times, at 10:00. They then turned north on Western Avenue to the Boulevards and Douglas Park. The Benz managed to make up two minutes by Garfield Park. After Humboldt Park, they proceeded north on Humboldt Boulevard, then northwest on Milwaukee Avenue. At 10:50, the Mueller-Benz, got to Jefferson Park, and then proceeded northwest toward Niles on Milwaukee Avenue. Mr. Reid started cooling the water jacket around the single cylinder with ice from a pair of galvanized buckets hanging off the rear of the car. They swayed and rattled down the relatively good paving through Niles, then, about twenty-two miles from the start, they had to stop and repair one of the thin solid rubber tires, which had slipped off the rim. The Benz caught up with the Duryea brothers after they broke a drive chain, which cost them 48 minutes. With the chain replaced, the light two-cylinder car reached 15 mph, and was gaining on the Benz, when it spooked a horse team near Libertyville. As Frank was trying to pass, the horses pulled to the left, cutting him off. To avoid a collision he swerved off the road and into a ditch, bending the rear axle and tweaking the steering gear. The Buggyaut was towed to a train depot by the same horse team, and the car was shipped back to Springfield Massachusetts for repair.


The Mueller-Benz made it to Waukegan and back to Chicago, reaching the finish line at the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park, after 9 hours and 30 minutes. They had a total of 46 minutes down time.


CAUSE                                       MINUTES LOST

By sparking machine                           2:00

By loss of tire                                      7:00

Readjusting said tire                           3:30

By sparking machine                           2:30

Taking water                                       4:00

Sparking machine                               3:30

Lost way, by fault of bicycle guides   4:00

Taking supplies at Winnetka              5:00

Taking supplies at Waukegan             7:00

Lost time at rail grade crossings        7:30


The net running time was 8 hours and 44 minutes, requiring 31.52 pounds of gasoline (5.25 gallons). The car consumed 17.52 mpg, with an average speed of 8½ mph.


George K. Barrett & Chris Sinsabaugh, from the cycling enthusiast magazine Bearings followed events on a tandem bicycle. They had no problem keeping up, even with a stop for lunch in Wheeling, after which they had to regain lost distance. Sinsabaugh dismissed the motocycles as impractical curiosities, with little threat to the dominance of bicycles for personal transportation in cities. He went on to a career as an automotive journalist.


The Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company built wagons and carriages in South Bend, Indiana. A contract with the Union Army helped make them into the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world. They had a fine Chicago Repository in the fifteen hundred block of Michigan Avenue. By 1894 they needed more room and built an even larger facility facing Wabash Avenue, just behind the first one. At the time of the race the interior was unfinished, and they had not started moving in, so when foul weather hit the exposed site at the Washington Park Club the Studebaker Brothers lent this new facility to the event. Starting Tuesday, November 19th, formal tests were held at the 1557 Wabash Avenue address. Arrangements were made by which the various motocycles could be placed on exhibition there through December 4th.

Studebaker moved into this new location the following spring, and they made their former repository and showroom on Michigan Avenue into the Fine Arts Building. For most of the twentieth century, it housed classrooms and performance spaces dedicated to the classical arts.


Charles Brady King’s Map of the Race.


Thanksgiving, November 28th, the Main Event


By Thanksgiving Day winter had blown in, and weather proved to be the main challenge. An average Thanksgiving in Chicago had daytime temperatures of 41˚ falling to 27˚ at night, one might expect a few inches of snow in the shady areas, and some ice every morning. Heavy snows usually came after November. Thanksgiving Day of 1895 was not average. Chicago’s earliest recorded snowfall of 10 inches or more fell the night of November 25-26, leaving a frozen blanket one foot deep. The 27th brought record low temperatures from 8˚ to a high of 33˚, with winds gusting up to 60 mph, blowing snow into drifts.

Due to road conditions, the route was cut down to a 54.36-mile road race through downtown Chicago, via Michigan Avenue, then north on lakeside roads to the suburban town of Evanston. Returning through the wide Boulevards that connected the south-side park system, mostly avoiding the stink of stockyards, rendering plants, and soap factories.

This is how the race committee put it: “The route includes about fifty-five miles of roadway, and contains sections of all grades of pavement and roadway. Nothing but a severe snowstorm can render the route unfit for

the test.”


The night before the race only eleven of the applicants declared they were ready. A night of fresh snowfall deposited another 5-6 inches over the base, and three declared entrants were not able to get their machines started, as gasoline is harder to vaporize at freezing temperatures. Two others were disabled on their way to the starting line. The Haynes-Apperson car had wire spoke bicycle wheels. One wheel was caught and crushed in the horse car tracks at Indiana & 38th Street. Max Hertel broke his steering gear.

Only six remaining entrants braved the weather to leave the starting line. Although half of them were based on the German Velo, designed by Karl Benz, they were all modified and somewhat different from each other. J. Frank Duryea made the fourth gasoline buggy. The other two motocycles were electric. The Electrobat II got to the staging area early, followed by the Macy’s Roger-Benz, Duryea, Sturges Electric, and the De La Vergne Benz. As the event got underway, the Mueller-Benz was missing, and rumored to be wrecked.




Vehicles awaiting the start; #25 is Sturges, #5 is Duryea, and #7 is the De La Vergne Benz. This area had been plowed to reduce snow.


The race judges were: Charles Frederick Kimball, Professor Barrett, and Leland Summers, with Frederick Adams as Marshall. The race started on the Midway Plaisance heading west from Jackson Park, which was located along the shore of Lake Michigan, and was the venue of the World’s Columbian Exposition two years earlier.

Each car was assigned an umpire to record delays, repairs, fuel use, and other occurrences. A crowd of onlookers fought off the morning frost. Low temperatures were a disadvantage for the electric cars, as they reduced battery storage capacity. They favored the explosion engines, which were often compromised by overheating, as this was before pressurized water-cooling systems or practical air-cooled designs were developed. Leather has moisture content, so the drive belts in the Benz cars were affected. Stiff, icy, belts have less-grip against smooth pulley faces. Support crews were busy wrapping driving wheels with cordage for better traction. There was a strong police presence to control crowds; in the parks, many of them were on horseback.


When Fred Kimball called out, “Ready…. Go!” at 8:55, it was windy and freezing. A four-horse plow had been dragged over the staging area; fresh snow lay over ice for most of the route, slippery at the icy patches, with many areas deeply rutted. There were snowdrifts from the record blizzard two days earlier.


The Duryea Buggyaut, driven by J. Frank Duryea, with rotund Toronto newsman Arthur W. White as umpire, was first to leave. Next off was the De La Vergne Benz at 8:56, and then the Macy’s Benz at 8:59, the driver, Jerry O’Conner, had to hop out and push it up the first part of the Midway.

Based on the struggles of the first three vehicles, Adams and Kimball decided the snow through Washington Park, and at the sleepy end of Michigan Avenue, was too deep, so they had the next three vehicles––the two electrics and the Mueller-Benz––turn right on Cottage Grove Avenue, which was at the end of the Midway, and formed the east boundary of the park. Cottage Grove had a cable car line, and they ran snowplows.

The two electrics left next, Sturges’ big Surrey at 9:01, and then the Electrobat II at 9:02. The official race photographer, Charles Frederick Carter, took a series of pictures showing the lineup and starts. Photos show umpire Charles King waiting for the Mueller car to arrive with a bag under his arm. This held their lunch: three dinner rolls. Finally the Mueller-Benz showed up, driven by Oscar Mueller with Charles G. Reid as passenger. They had been up past eleven PM the previous night installing new drive belts and otherwise prepping the car. Oscar said he overslept. With all three occupants, they chugged off in chilly pursuit at 10:06.


A reporter from the competing Chicago Daily Tribune, who had been ridiculing the event since its announcement, showed up in a horse drawn cab, as if a rig that made 7 mph in good weather was sufficient to cover a motorcar race. He probably had the cabbie drop him off at the nearby colligate football game; the Tribune gave that event full coverage.


Snow through the Midway and Washington Park was unpacked and fair going for the pneumatic tires of the lightweight Duryea, The heavier Benz cars, with their thin solid-rubber tires, had more trouble getting traction.


Five thousand football partisans were assembling to fill the bleachers at Marshall Field field––department store magnate Marshall Field donated the land––for the University of Chicago vs. University of Michigan game, a Thanksgiving Day tradition since 1893. A number of the early arrivals walked down to the Midway, one block south, to see the great race. Many were wearing school colors and waving pennants of maroon and white, or maize and light blue, they warmed up their cheers for the first five cars. Athletic clubs wore their own colors; forty bankers showed up in red, purple, and gold. They were all back at the stadium by the time the Mueller-Benz showed up. The University of Michigan beat Chicago 12-0, making Chicago 0-3 in the series.


It took Duryea 12 minutes to go that first mile up the Midway, the Macy’s Benz passed the De La Vergne Benz, reaching Cottage Grove Avenue and Washington Park in 16 minutes, the De La Vergne car took 24 minutes, followed by the Sturges Electric at 28 minutes, and the Electrobat in 31. The crowd gave up on seeing the illustrious winner from the November 2nd contest; they had dwindled to a few stragglers when the Mueller-Benz finally came through at 10:14.


After seeing the cars off, race officials took the Illinois Central Railroad downtown, and set themselves up in the six-story Leland Hotel on Michigan Avenue at Jackson Street. Charles Duryea also took the train downtown, where he joined George H. Hewitt and Theodore W. Leete, they then followed the Buggyaut in a two-horse sleigh, with tools, fluids, and spare parts.


Chicago had the largest cable car system in America, divided between three companies. The Southside was the domain of the Chicago City Railway. They had 35 miles of Cable car track, with 113 more for horse cars, and a few new electric trolley cars. The system was profitable before the Exposition, becoming a cash cow as thousands of Fair construction workers started paying two dimes a day in 1891.

Cable cars are powered from a central station, for the Cottage Grove Avenue line, the plant was at the northeast corner of 55th Street and Cottage Grove, where large steam-driven pulleys drew steel cable thru a conduit between the tracks. A great advantage of cable car systems is gobs of available power, independent of wheel traction, which made them impervious to nasty weather. The main limitation was speed, usually 9 mph or less. The Mueller car was delayed 3 times behind cable cars on Cottage Grove.

As Chicago was flat, the Chicago City Railway could run a grip car with up to three trailers. Some trailers would convert into horse cars for east/west spur lines, or to reach the more remote areas. The system had no turntables, relying on loops several blocks long for turning around. Most important for the race, they had a couple dozen snowplows and some sweepers.


In 1895, Cottage Grove ended at 22nd Street, where the final three cars went a block west to Michigan; there they turned right, rejoining the original route.


Members of Hyde Park’s carriage trade were parked in the lanes at Washington Park to watch in relative comfort­––seated with lap robes––as the vehicles went by. About 500 people were said to have gathered in the Park; a bit disappointed to only see the first three contestants, which had not been re-routed.


As Frederick Haas, driving the De La Vergne Benz, approached the 55th street exit from Washington Park, he decided that road conditions were too treacherous, and dropped out of the race. The wheels were slipping in the snow and ice even more than the others, so he quit the contest and got into one of Kimball’s Cutters––a fifty-pound one-horse sleigh––with a Times-Herald reporter, to follow the rest of the event.

Several hundred people lined 55th Street to witness the two cars that managed to exit the park. Throwing snowballs at the strange vehicles was popular sport along much of the route. They continued north on Michigan Avenue. The southern end of Michigan Avenue was predominantly residential, including some fine stone mansions, with many churches, and a few private clubs. It was not heavily traveled, and was unpaved until reaching down town. It was rutted and cluttered with ice hummocks, which caused the vehicles to slew wildly from side to side. A number of sleighs, from light Cutters, to six-passenger 2-horse rigs, followed the noisy parade. There were no bicycles this time.


In 1895, Michigan Avenue had lake frontage from 12th Street (now Roosevelt), to Randolph Street, and was paved with brick from the 9-story Auditorium Hotel at Congress Street to the Chicago River. With the exception of the Chicago Art Institute, all that was between the Boulevard, and Lake Michigan to the east, was a grassy block-wide stretch called Lake Park, and the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad. The strip of buildings facing the lake from the west side of Michigan Avenue was known as Park Row. A good crowd (the Times-Herald claimed 10,000, a favorite number) lined the street, and upstairs windows were filled with the faces of families and hotel guests witnessing the spectacle.


Filling the block between Van Buren and Jackson were the hotels Victoria, Richelieu (noted for its bar and restaurant), and Leland. An enthusiastic crowd, including race officials at the Leland, cheered them on. The Electrobat II was running along on that block’s smooth brick paving at 10 mph.

Jerry O’Connor, with Lt. Samuel Rodman Jr. as his Umpire, drove the Macy’s Roger-Benz rather aggressively. Just past the impressive red granite and terra cotta edifice of the 10 story Pullman Building, and in front of the Art Institute of Chicago, he crashed into the back of an Adams Street cable car, which was making the loop on Michigan from Adams to Randolph. He had started following the car to take advantage of the clearer roadbed. It stopped suddenly, and the Benz skidded into the rear platform. The steering gear was slightly bent, but they were not significantly delayed.


In 1895 Michigan Boulevard ended at the Chicago River, where there was no longer a clear lake view to the right, as the docks and depots of the Illinois Central Railroad occupied the prime real estate where Fort Dearborn had been. Alluvia from the river spread a small delta into the lake.


Rush Street Bridge, looking north and slightly west. In the foreground is the ramp up from Michigan Avenue; this gave the bridge enough height that most barge traffic could go through without swinging the bridge out of the way. A barge is doing just that in this 1890 photograph. It would be possible for the barge to go over the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans.


At the south bank of the Chicago River, the cars turned left onto the incline leading up to the Rush St. Bridge, the steepest grade they would encounter. The heavy Sturges wagon could not have made it without some pushing from helpful spectators. Once over the bridge, the cars motored north, passing hotels and mansions. Rush Street was unpaved and deeply rutted, particularly in the first four-blocks north of the bridge. The big front wheels of the Duryea whipped the steering lever from side to side, as they fell from crest to valley. The Duryea broke down 8 miles from the start, near Erie Street, in front of Cyrus McCormick’s former mansion at 675 Rush, where it hit a rut at a bad angle, jerking the left front wheel around and breaking the steering arm just below a threaded collar under the floorboard. While Frank removed the broken steering arm from the car, Charles went off to find a blacksmith. They then took the part to be re-forged, causing a delay of 45 minutes. O’Connor ran past the disabled Duryea, but they got going before the Mueller car could catch up.


Rush Street veered off toward the northwest at Chicago Avenue, so the race turned right on Chicago, down toward Lake Shore Drive, there they turned left at the old municipal pumping plant, with its 175-foot high gothic-castle style water tower. On Tower Place, the Mueller-Benz overtook the Electrobat II. Charles King noted one of its motors was throwing sparks; the commutator or a brush might have been damaged during the high current draw on the incline to the Rush Street Bridge. On Lakeshore Drive, at North Avenue, the Mueller-Benz passed the Sturges electric.


The new route had a great advantage for Henry H. Kohlsaat, as his mansion was on Lake Shore Drive. Rather than fight the weather, he stood at his front window, shifting from foot to foot, watching with obvious delight as the five cars passed.


The second car to quit was the Electrobat II. As it crept along Lake Shore drive, about 10-miles into the race, Henry Morris knew he had limited options. With the lack of a fresh replacement battery, along with temperature and road conditions, further progress would require being towed back to home base by horses, so he turned around at the entrance to Lincoln Park, and drove back to the C P Kimball Carriage Repository at 315 Michigan Avenue, just barely getting there under its own power.

As the car had to travel 7.5 miles to the starting line and 3 more back to the repository, it had managed a total of 20.5 miles on one charge, in the worst possible conditions for an electric car.

On a pure design basis, the Electrobat II was best suited for bad road conditions. The Electrobat and Duryea were the only cars in the race shod with pneumatic tires, a distinct advantage under all road conditions. The Electrobat had independent motors on each drive wheel, if one slipped, full torque, and ½ of total horsepower, remained at the other. The front driving wheels tended to climb over obstructions rather than simply plow through. The trailing steering wheels gave slightly better control over the icy rutted roads for the same reasons a rudder is at the rear of a boat or plane. Rear wheel steering did not become popular, as it was harder to pull away from a curb, and does not suit the dynamics of high speed cornering.


H. P. Maxim made notes on the Electrobat’s power consumption; it took 3-HP to get rolling in the snow, running on the level midway out of Jackson park at 3-MPH Required 1½-HP, going up Michigan Avenue at 7-MPH took 3-HP, in broken unpacked snow. On smooth clear paving the car took 2-HP at 10-MPH. The approach to the Rush Street Bridge over the Chicago River was more of a challenge; it was steep, and covered in rough ice and snow. When a series wound DC motor is presented with a heavy load it slows down, draws gobs of current, and cranks out a lot of torque. The Electrobat II barely crawled up the incline, requiring 4¾-HP: 1¾-HP over the motors’ nominal rating.


O’Conner, driving the Macy’s Roger-Benz, motored past the Grant Monument in Lincoln Park at 10:30 running at about 6-mph, now forty-minutes ahead of Duryea, although Frank had picked up the pace and was running at 7-8-mph.

The Mueller-Benz had trouble with speed control due to slipping belts and wheels, so they made erratic progress. Mr. Reid was reported to be sanding the drive belts and putting rosin on them. The only running vehicles they caught up with were the electrics, which were creeping along to conserve battery life. Oscar Mueller drove past the Grant Memorial at 11:42. Harold Sturges, with T. T. Bennett as umpire, passed the monument at 12:15, but he gave up at the end of Lincoln Park, managing 11 miles of the 54-mile course in 3½-hours.


The two electrics were never seriously in the race as they weren’t able to set up replacement batteries along the route. The cold weather and snow-laden roads drew down the limited batteries quickly, and the battery weight caused them to sink into the snow. The Sturges wagon was twice as heavy as the other cars, with similar nominal horsepower as the Electrobat II or Duryea. The lack of a differential between the drive wheels would normally be a disadvantage. On ice or wet clay it was like a limited slip differential, the full power of the single motor would go to the wheel with the best traction. Sturges made several stops to cool the motor, suggesting it was producing more than its rated 3HP. Even in the freezing air it became clear the motor might burn out before their destination was reached.


Relay Station 1

The first official Relay Station was a few miles past Lincoln Park, where the race turned north on Sheridan Road from Grace Street.

Families were waiting on both sides of the street, and snowball fights were frequent. The Macy’s car arrived at 11:00 AM and O’Conner spent 10½ minutes examining it, making adjustments, and adding fluids. A pair of policemen held back the crowd as umpire Lt. Rodman cheerfully fielded the spectator’s incessant questions. The Duryea followed at 11:22; passing the checkpoint at speed, they were told O’Conner was 11 minutes ahead “We’ll overhaul him pretty soon” was the response. The Mueller car was hanging in an hour behind at 12:25; they spent a few minutes taking on a bag of ice to cool the engine. O’Conner stopped again a few blocks north of the station for further adjustments, losing more time, but he got going before Duryea came into sight. A frightened horse briefly delayed the Mueller car in the same area, an hour later. The remaining three cars motored north toward Evanston, on the Sheridan military road, without further incident. This area was notorious for sandy stretches. Sand and mud make a better road when frozen solid, one of few advantages of the nasty weather.


The motocycles were greeted by large enthusiastic crowds on the tree-lined streets of Evanston. Just after turning north on Forest Avenue, the Duryea caught up with O’Conner, who pulled over to let him pass, this drew applause from the throngs lining the Avenue. The thickest flocks were at Davis Street and Chicago Avenue, where the race turned back toward Chicago. Evanston’s prominent citizens gathered at the Avenue House on that corner, where they lined the balcony. It was hard to predict when the cars would arrive, as the storms had rendered telephones useless. Many waited for more than two-hours. All cheered wildly as the first two cars rounded the corner to the southwest at 12:50. The Mueller-Benz finally reached the corner at 2:30, where they made a short stop to adjust a clutch. A few blocks later, at Chicago and Dempster Streets, they stopped another 9 minutes for further adjustments, finally correcting the problem.


On the way back, just outside of Evanston, near the Calvary Cemetery, the sleigh with Frederick Haas and the Times-Herald reporter as passengers, crossed the tracks of the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. One of the sleigh’s runners caught a rail frog, tipping it over and spilling the occupants. O’Conner was right behind them, and, with impaired steering, skidded straight into the little sleigh. Fortunately, the only harm was embarrassment. Real damage to the car was done while coming through Rogers Park on Clark Street, where a two-horse hack did not give right of way. The Macy’s Roger-Benz struck the hack’s rear wheel with its left front wheel, damaging four spokes and rendering the steering nearly useless. All of Chicago’s streetcars used standard gauge, which has 56½“ between the rails, the Macy’s car had a gauge of 52”, and so the resourceful O’Conner put the car between the streetcar tracks, allowing the rails to guide the wheels. He drove in this manner for about a mile to the second relay station.


Relay Station 2

The second relay station was along the return leg on Clark Street at West Devon Avenue. William Bock had a popular roadhouse on the corner, which became headquarters for a few race officials and about a hundred enthusiasts. Many were more lubricated than the cars. Some had come over from the first relay station by streetcar.

Duryea arrived there at 1:09:41, followed by O’Conner at 1:16. O’Conner spent an hour and twenty minutes working on his steering gear, also taking on seven gallons of water and six of gasoline. Mueller reached the checkpoint at 3:23:16, stopping for five minutes and taking on three gallons of gasoline.

Fresh teams were waiting to relive the horses harnessed to support vehicles. Frank Macpherson was waiting for O’Conner with a supply of gasoline, Fred B. Mueller, and his cousin Adolph Ewers, awaited their Benz. H. Wedel waited, in vain, for Haas.


After the relay station, the cars had a clear path down the Clark Street streetcar track. Frank Duryea, making good speed, became lost by continuing on Clark instead of turning at Lawrence to proceed west on Roscoe Street. The delay caused by the slightly longer route was not significant, but Charles stayed on course with his horse drawn supply wagon and got to the third checkpoint first, the Buggyaut seemed to have disappeared into freezing air.


The Ferris wheel, while still on the Midway


Frank Duryea and Arthur White were not particularly familiar with Chicago roads. As they approached Diversey Boulevard they saw the giant Ferris wheel from the World’s Fair looming up, several blocks ahead. Originally on the Midway Plaisance, its new location was near Lincoln Park at Clark and Wrightwood. This made it obvious they had missed a turn. Frank headed back to the course by turning west up Diversey Avenue. On Diversey between Clark and Lincoln one of the two cylinders stopped firing. Frank quickly established it was a damaged igniter, a low-voltage predecessor to the spark plug. Charles, with the support sleigh, was nowhere in sight, having passed them on the correct route. Frank looked for help while limping along on one cylinder; he tracked down a tinsmith and convinced him to open his shop. Frank then fabricated a new igniter, it all added up to a 55-minute delay and a two-mile diversion. The repair was not entirely successful, as the car was running mostly on one cylinder during the post-race dynamometer tests the following day.


The Mueller-Benz got up to 16 mph on Clark, with the “high speed clutch” thrown in. Not long after the second checkpoint, about thirty-five miles out, while on Belmont Avenue along Riverview Park, Mueller’s passenger, Charles G. Reid, collapsed. Even in the near freezing temperatures, he had been shoveling ice and snow into the cooling jacket. On this trip, he also did a fair amount of pushing when the car got stuck. Reid was off loaded into a passing cutter.


Although the Clark Street roadbed was rough, the streetcars made it clear of snow. The next stretch should have been a relief, as Lawrence and Ashland were paved in hard macadam, Roscoe, Western, and Milwaukee Boulevard were paved with wood blocks, and the Park System roads were in macadam and asphalt. However, with no streetcars, these roads were deep in snow and it was slow going. The Macy’s Benz had not gained much ground during the Duryea’s down time, as it was bogged down in the unbroken snow and ice through Humboldt and Garfield parks.


Sunset occurred at 4:22. The rules required that each vehicle be equipped with at least three lights, and they be lit from 5:00 PM on. The vehicle lights of this era were kerosene coach lights, more useful for others seeing the vehicle than helping the driver see the road.

Chicago, by 1893, was one of the world’s best-lit cities. 2,235 miles of streets were illuminated with 37,000 gaslights and 1,092 arc lights.

Still, it was dark and freezing, and most of the crowds were long gone. Patches of bright light beamed down from the tall arc light stanchions, causing sharp dark shadows feebly lit by gaslight. The natural gas for the lamps came through a pipeline that Elwood Haynes had built from the Indiana oil fields nine-years earlier.


When the first cars arrived, Douglas Park had recently recovered from a small, harmless, riot. More than a hundred boys, awaiting the race, had grown tired of throwing snowballs at friends and relatives. They started directing the frigid missiles at the assembled police. The police made the mistake of advancing on the youths, and were then forced to retreat, as they had no appropriate response––one does not club children for snowballs. They might have called for backup, but the police alarm boxes were down, along with the phone lines. The Duryea finally came through the park around 6:00. It was dark and most families had gone home for their big Thanksgiving dinners. A Times-Herald reporter in a sleigh led Duryea from Douglas Park down the Boulevards all of the way to the finish line, the horse hooves breaking a path through the snow.


The Macy’s Roger-Benz was immobilized at Ogden and California, in Douglass Park, at 6:15. O’Conner worked on the car until 11:30 PM, but could not get it running satisfactorily.



Relay Station 3

California Avenue and 26th Street, about a mile past Douglas Park.

After the southwest parks, things were dark and bleak for a while. The southerly part of Western Avenue went through an underdeveloped area with bad roads, there were no spectators, and the stench from nearby rendering plants and soap factories made the air feel dense. The temperature was well below freezing again.


Approaching Halsted on 55th Street (Garfield Blvd), Oscar Mueller also collapsed, due to fatigue and hypothermia. The umpire, Charles B. King, took over the controls and motored on. Due to the darkness and road conditions, King, who became familiar with Chicago roads during the Exposition (he was exhibiting his air hammer) decided to go off route, he turned south from 55th Street, and went for eight blocks on Halsted to 63rd Street. These roads had streetcar lines, so there was less snow and better lighting. He ran toward the lake on 63rd Street, passing the burned out basement where the infamous “Dr. H. H.  Holmes” had his drugstore and murder hotel, at the corner of Wallace. He then passed the Marlow Theatre at Stewart, before turning left on State. King followed the car tracks on State Street, to 61st Street, then east six more blocks, turning on South Park Court, and then down the last two blocks of the Midway toward the finish.


The finish

J. Frank Duryea completed the 54.36 miles (56.36 including his detour) first, at 7:18 PM; it took 10 hours and 23 minutes, averaging 5.05 mph in total time, or 7.5 mph in running time. This was in a car capable of 14 mph in good conditions. Frank claimed in his memoirs that the car required no pushing. With likely exception of the Electrobat II, the others all did.

The Duryea brothers with their “backyard buggy” made their reputation by beating the millionaires in expensive European carriages.


Umpire Charles King drove the Mueller-Benz to the finish, he held Oscar Mueller in his seat until John Lundie clocked them in at 8:53. The rules required that the original contestant be in the car, nothing about being conscious. They were clocked at 4.87 mph overall, compared to 8½ mph on the earlier November 2nd test. Mueller was lifted into a Hack and hauled to his hotel, still unconscious. King escaped the small cluster of officials, Times-Herald reporters, other team members, and ardent enthusiasts; he walked over to the nearby Del Prado Hotel, on 59th Street between the Illinois Central tracks and Jackson Park, for a full Thanksgiving Dinner, his first real meal of the day.


O’Connor repaired the Macy’s car the following day and crossed the finish line about 24 hours after Duryea. It was not recorded as a third place finish, as the race had a time limit, and no official was there to see it go past the third relay station, or arrive in Jackson Park.


The long shadows  

The promoters declared success, as their overall concept was to test the viability of motorcar over horse. It was more a contest of endurance than speed.

The most important aspect of the event was not the race results, but the meeting of minds that occurred when almost everyone involved in developing motor vehicles experienced the efforts of others. This exchange of ideas moved the art forward and started lasting relationships. Charles B. King proposed an association to promote the interests of motorists. Shortly thereafter, several of those involved with the race started the American Motor League. One of their first actions was to lobby Chicago to give motor vehicles equal rights with horse drawn vehicles on the roads and parkways.


Many consider the results of this race as proving the superiority of internal combustion over electricity for personal transportation. This conclusion is rebuffed by the facts. Those who advocated explosion cars were surprised in September of 1896; when six of the third-generation Duryea cars were soundly defeated by the same Electrobat II, and a new Riker Electric Trap, in a series of five-mile sprints, on a Rhode Island horse track. If the same cars had raced on July 4, as originally conceived, there is a good chance the Electrobat II would have finished first.

The dominant limit of speed, and the major cause of mechanical failure, was the interaction between the road and the tires, wheels, and steering gear. The clear consensus of all participants was that pneumatic rubber tires were superior in every respect to solid rubber, except reliability.


Hiram P. Maxim was in a good position to assess the various modes, as he was employed by the Pope bicycle empire to design a motor carriage for them to manufacture. Pope sent him to the Chicago race to check out the competition. Frederick Adams had visited Pope in 1894, but found no interest in making motor vehicles. He must have planted a seed, as the Pope enterprise hired Maxim for that purpose the following summer. Before the race, Maxim was working on a gasoline vehicle, although his immediate superior, Hayden Eames, favored electric propulsion. In his fascinating book, “Horseless Carriage Days,” Maxim said, “I thought long and deeply over this matter as I journeyed back to Hartford. I made up my mind that Lieutenant Eames “stop-gap” idea was not half bad, for it was going to be some time before a salable gasoline-carriage was to appear.” Upon return, he immediately started work on an electric runabout. Electric automobile companies began production in Chicago, Hartford, and Brooklyn, in the year following the Chicago race.

Morris & Salom (Electrobat) saw little market potential for private motor vehicles of any mode, and concentrated on making taxicabs. The big capitol poured into these commercial electric vehicles, and it was not until after the spectacular collapse of the “lead cab” trusts around 1902 that investors got excited about explosion cars.

In 1900, Andrew Riker, drove his electric trap to victory in a 50-mile contest on Long Island. He beat a dozen other cars, both steam and gasoline. A Locomobile steamer, designed by the Stanley twins, finished second. By 1902, the Locomobile was briefly the most popular personal automobile in America. Although steam was a nearly perfected technology for large-scale installations, such as power plants, steamships, and locomotives, it proved hard to scale down into an efficient light carriage. Steam had the advantages of a simple reliable drive train, with easy throttle control. The disadvantages included a slow initial steaming-up period, and being about half as fuel efficient as an explosion car of similar power. They also required an attentive, knowledgeable operator, and had an annoying habit of bursting into flames. Riker, who sold his electric car company to the Electric Vehicle Co (Columbia) in December of 1900, talked the management of Locomobile into dropping steam and building the gasoline car he designed. The steam car business was sold back to the Stanley brothers in 1903. It was a small world.

Although both steam and electric railroad engines broke 100 mph in 1893, and a bicycle achieved 60 mph in 1899*, electric cars were the fastest open-road motor vehicles on earth from 1896-1903.

Internal combustion cars finally took the lead in popularity with the curved dash Olds around 1903, however, the majority of enclosed automobiles were electric until around 1914. Even J. Frank Duryea bought his wife a Detroit Electric in the early teens.




The Judges met on December 5th: all of the cars had broken at least one rule, so there were many judgment calls. After four hours of deliberation, they awarded the following.


Duryea was awarded the $2,000 first prize “for the best performance in the road race, for range of speed and pull, with compactness of design.”


The Mueller-Benz had been awarded $500 for winning the November 2nd event. For the Thanksgiving contest they were awarded $1,500 for “performance in the road race and economy of operation.” Mueller offered King half the prize money, but he declined. He did accept a gold medal of thanks from the H. Mueller Manufacturing Co.


Macy’s Roger-Benz was awarded $500- for its showing, perhaps enough to cover damages.


Sturges was awarded $500 for his performance in the race.


The Electrobat II won the Times-Herald Gold Medal––Originally intended for the winner––for “best showing made in the official tests, safety, ease of control, absence of noise and vibration, heat or odor, cleanliness, and general excellence of design and workmanship.” The gold medal said “Victory.” This prize ambiguity caused heated debate when Electrobat publicity (the Electric Wagon & Carriage Co) described the medal as being for first place.


George W. Lewis was awarded $200 for his friction drive, brake, and reduction gear.


Haynes-Apperson received a $150 award for “plan of preventing vibration by balance of driving engines.” This was due to their horizontally opposed two-cylinder design, similar to a BMW motorcycle.


Max Hertel received $100 for his starting device (fairly easy with such a small engine), which was accomplished from the drivers seat.


De La Vergne Co was awarded $50 “for counterbalance on engine.”





Entries had to move under their own power, with no muscle involved. They had to have at least three wheels, and carry two people. The contestant was to be with the car for the entire distance.

Half of the vehicles that left the starting line were based on German designed Benz Velo cars, and were championed by wealthy Americans.

All of the vehicles that raced, and most that could have been contenders, were the second design attempt by the maker. For the Haynes, Electrobat, and Morrison/Sturges cars, a major factor in the failure of the first prototype vehicle was the use of center-pivot “King Pin” steering; as was in common practice with draft vehicles. All of the cars in the race had wheels for cornering that rotated at, or near, the pivot center of the wheel hubs (Aka “Ackermann” steering).


Benz  Velo: (for Velocipede, Germany), two passengers, seated vis-à-vis, or four with the optional jump seat, as with the Mueller car. The Benz was the first commercially available production automobile in the world (depending on definition), and the Velo was in production from 1894-1896, 134 were built in 1895. The stock Benz motor was a four-stroke, single cylinder, gasoline engine, both bore and stroke was 110 mm, giving a capacity of 1,045 cc. At 450 RPM it produced only 1.5 HP (increased to 2.75 HP in later production). Speed reduction was by a pair of leather drive belts, which also served as clutches. Hiram Maxim opined that the Benz cars looked like “machine shops on wheels,” as most machinery at the time ran on shaft, pulley, and leather-drive-belt systems; from a central steam or water plant. This transmission drove the rear wheels through twin chains to the rear wheels by sprockets on countershafts. They had roller bearings at the wheels, and wagon type block brakes on the solid rubber tires. Karl Benz’s first vehicle manufacturing partners were in the bicycle business, and the Velos were built with bicycle technologies, such as a steel tube frames. They cost 2,000 Marks in Germany.



Macy’s Roger-Benz


R. H. Macy & Co. was planning to sell Roger-Benz cars from their New York emporium. To finish well would have been a boon to marketing, even if one of the other Benz cars placed first. It was ahead of the other remaining Benz when it dropped out, having completed ¾ of the race.

Parisian bicycle manufacturer Emile Roger made the Macy’s Velo, with some modifications, in France, under license. A Roger-Benz finished fifth in the 1894 Paris-Rouen test. The Roger-Benz engine had the standard 5” bore with a longer stroke of 7”.

This version weighed 1,825 lbs, 385 in front and 1440 at the rear. It had a 67” wheelbase, with a 52” gauge, 35.8” front wheels, and 47.6” rear wheels, solid rubber tires, and wood spoke wheels.

The manager of Macy’s bicycle department, Frank A. Macpherson, and Jerry O’Conner, attempted to drive this Benz to the event, leaving Manhattan Island on November 15th; they gave up in Schenectady on the 20th, and completed the journey to Chicago by rail.



Mueller-Benz, from the left: Colonel Marshall Ludington and Henry Timken. C. F. Kimball and O. B. Mueller on the rear seat


The H. Mueller Manufacturing Co of Decatur IL made plumbing fixtures, pipes, & tools, specializing in cast brass and valves. Gunsmith Hieronymus Mueller invented the tool used to tap a pipeline, even flammable gas, while under full working pressure.

Their Benz weighed 1,636 lbs (385 front/1,251 rear), with a 73” wheelbase, 47.8” front gauge and 50.2” rear, with solid rubber tires.

Their car had the most modifications, including a “remade” engine with a bore of 5.5” and stroke of 6.25”. Mueller also added a reverse gear and a “high speed clutch” allowing the car speeds of up to 16 mph. The year following the race, H. Mueller filed a patent for a motor vehicle, and Oscar B. Mueller, the youngest of six sons, filed a patent for an igniter; which resembled a spark plug in kit form.

They marketed a few (4?) cars under their own name, which looked similar to the Velo, but had a copper tube radiator mounted in front of the dash.



De La Vergne Benz


The De La Vergne Refrigerating Co. (the Bronx, New York)

John C. De La Vergne made a fortune selling the ammonia based refrigeration systems, and the bottling machinery that he invented, to breweries. He passed away in 1896.

Refrigeration pump design and theory is very similar to expanding gas engine technology, and the company built a prototype car, which they decided not to enter, called the De La Vergne Hunting Trap. They also patented a Diesel type engine in 1899, and made a series of large oil-fueled engines through the early 1900’s.

The De La Vergne Benz, with a body built by the Hincks & Johnson Co of Bridgeport CT, weighed 1,680 lbs, 430 front and 1,250 rear, with a 66.7” wheel base, 47.4” rear wheels, and 36.4” front wheels, all had solid rubber tires. The cylinder was bored out to 5.12” with a stroke of 6.62”.

The company’s chief mechanical engineer, Frederic C. Haas, who held a patent on the steering gear, which was one of the cars modifications, drove their Benz. The car had so much trouble with traction and control that Haas quit early and followed the balance of the race in a sleigh. They must have given the Benz a crankshaft of their own design, as they were awarded $50 for “engine counterbalance.”


J. Frank Duryea is at the helm; Arthur White is staring at the camera.

Duryea Buggyaut           two-passengers with a 2-cylinder gasoline engine at the rear, patent #540,648. This was the brothers’ second prototype––an updated third design, meant for production, was under construction. Charles, who was in the bicycle business in Peoria, drew up the first prototype. The younger brother, James Franklin Duryea, built the car they entered in Springfield Massachusetts. It was a converted horse-drawn buggy weighing 1,208 lbs, 479 in the front and 729 at the rear. The engine had a bore of 4” and a stroke of 4.5” giving a displacement of 106 cubic inches. Frank Duryea rated the engine as 4-hp at 500 rpm and somewhat higher at 700. It had a top speed of 15-20 mph. 57.5” wheelbase, 55” rear and 53.7” front gauge, with pneumatic tires on wooden buggy wheels, 37.4” diameter at front and 45.6” at the rear.

Garaged on 16th St.



The electric cars had to start the race with their batteries several miles down. The vehicles dependant on petroleum and water were able to add these fluids at any point. They intended to set replacement batteries at intervals of about 20-miles; the heavy horse-drawn wagons were not able to deliver them, due to weather and road conditions. This strategy would have given both electrics a chance of being competitive, at least in moderate temperatures over reasonable roads.


The Electrobat II

Electrobat II         Built by Morris & Salom (Philadelphia), the Electrobat II, III, and IV, were brought to the race, but only the II was run. Financed by their investors, the Consolidated Storage Battery Company, which merged with the Electric Storage Battery Co in 1894.

Built with bicycle technologies, this was a unique design, with coil spring suspension at the rear wheels. Coil springs seem a more advanced concept, but properly designed leaf springs had the advantage of dissipating energy by the friction between leaves. Before the invention of snubbers, shock absorbers, and dampers, leaf springs were the best way to reduce rebound.

With a steel tube frame it weighed 1,650 Lbs, including a 669 lb battery. It steered at the rear wheels. The front wheels were driven by a pair of 1½-HP Lundell motors, running at 96 volts. The battery had a 50-Ampere hour capacity and a range (in normal conditions) of 25 miles per charge, running up to 20 MPH. The body was designed and built at the Charles S. Caffrey Carriage Co.

The front drive wheels were of wider track (44.2” vs. 36.1”) and diameter (39.6” vs. 28.4”) than the rear, all were shod with pneumatic tires. The car had simple wagon brakes on the front drive tires.


The Electrobats took up residence in the C. P. Kimball Carriage Company’s repository at 315 Michigan Ave, at the corner of Harmon Court, 1.25 miles south of the Chicago River, and five blocks farther from the starting line than the Studebaker repositories.

The following year, in 5-mile sprints at Narragansett Park, Rhode Island, this same Electrobat II, with a hot battery, ran at up to 27 mph; leaving six third-generation Duryeas in the dust.


The Morrison/Sturges buggy in race form, the surrey top and third seat were removed, a box covers the added battery in the rear.


Sturges Electric Wagon: (Des Moines/Chicago) a modification of the vehicle built by William Morrison in 1890. Other than some steam tractors and road engines, this was probably the first workable four-wheeled motorcar in the Americas. The vehicle was famous from its appearance at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where it was often driven around the grounds by seventeen-year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs, as part of the American Battery Co exhibit. They had purchased the vehicle from Morrison, along with his early battery patents. By 1895 former ABCo secretary Harold Sturges owned the electric wagon. He campaigned the vehicle throughout the Midwest, seeking investors for production. Morrison, whose focus was on the battery, had not bothered to patent potentially novel features (such as the curved-rack and pinion steering), so it had no proprietary elements, and he was not able to find sufficient capitol.

The race version weighed 3,535 lbs, 2,085 on the rear wheels and 1,450 on the front. Sturges replaced Morrison’s re-wound 2½-hp Siemens-Halske trolley car motor with a new 3-hp Lundell motor, designed for battery car voltages. The motor drove a large gear on the axle, adjacent to the right rear wheel, by means of a pinion gear on the motor shaft. Power was delivered to both wheels through the solid rear axle, with plain (sleeve) bearings and no differential. The lack of a differential was an advantage on slippery surfaces. Sturges had the Hartford Rubber Works (Pope) install solid rubber tires over the steel rims of the wooden carriage wheels. It had a 65” wheelbase and 57” gauge. The front wheels had a diameter of 46.4” and the rear of 50.2”. He removed the third seat at the rear giving room for more than doubling the original battery capacity to 250 AH.


Most of the ~100 entries never made it to the starting line, they included:


Haynes-Apperson Pioneer II


Pioneer II; Haynes-Apperson (Indiana),      Elwood Haynes, with the Apperson brothers (Edgar & Elmer), their second prototype. Haynes built his first car with a 1-HP Sintz gasoline engine that he saw at the Columbian Exposition; he also probably saw the Morrison/Sturges wagon and the German vehicles. Both the Pioneer I & II were brought to Chicago. The Pioneer I got a ticket for being driven on a public road; the Pioneer II arrived by train on the 19th.

The Pioneer II, a 4-passenger trap, would have been a significant contender. It had a four horsepower, aluminum alloy, opposed two-cylinder 2-stroke engine, with a balanced-crank. Both bore and stroke were 4”. The car weighed 1,250 lbs, 421 on the front, and 829 at the drive wheels. It had a 54” wheelbase, 55.5” front gauge and 55.2” rear gauge. Pneumatic tires on wire wheels riding on ball bearings. On the way to the starting line the car broke a wheel and bent an axle when it hit a rail at an oblique angle, to avoid colliding with a streetcar, at Indiana Avenue and 38th St.



Everybody steers, but what makes it stop and go?


Kane-Pennington: (Racine Wisconsin) Edward Joel Pennington & Thomas Kane (Chicago) had two small hot-air-engine runabouts at the November 2nd event. The one they ran was painted yellow and had bicycle type steering with wire wheels mounted with the fat balloon tires he had invented, on a steel tube chassis. The two-cylinder heat engine (similar to a Sterling engine) had a 2½” bore and 6” stroke.

Pennington also brought a couple of his motorized bicycles, as with other two-wheeled entries, they did not qualify. He called the automobiles Victorias but they looked more like pedal cars than royal carriages.

Pennington was in England at the time of the Thanksgiving race. This light buggy with its big balloon tires would have had some advantage over the heavy cars, with their narrow tires, in the snow and ice. Theoretically, a hot air engine should produce more power when the ambient temperature is lower. They seem to have lacked torque.

Pennington was nicknamed “airship” as he promoted using his four-cylinder radial engine to power a dirigible. He became notorious for selling the same concepts to a series of investors in different cities, none of whom saw any return of capital.


Max rolls into the new Studebaker building as the weather turns nasty


Max Hertel: (Chicago) a little 2-passenger, 4-wheel gasoline car, with a small (3 5/8“ bore, 4¾“ stroke) 2-cylinder 2½-HP engine. As with many early amateur motor vehicles, this was based on a pair of bicycles with a motor and body hung between them, they worked fine on a perfectly smooth road, but the only suspension was the tires and seat cushion. The engine was geared to a high speed intermediate shaft––the flywheel was on the intermediate shaft, with the higher speed allowing it to be lighter––this drove the pneumatic tires by means of a spring loaded friction pulley engaged with a round steel hoop affixed to each rear wheel (similar to wheel-chair grips.) A steering lever came straight back from the right front wheel, linked to the left wheel with a tie-rod. The wheels were centered by means of a coil spring. As no part of frame or body obstructed the front wheels, it had a 10-foot turning radius. Weighing 230 lbs wet, it was said to be capable of 20 mph. The Hertel entry won $100 for the starting device, accomplished by pumping the control handle fore and aft.


Charles Brady King: (Detroit) Brady’s four-cylinder car, powered by a Sintz engine, was nearly complete, except for the bevel-drive rear end. After the race he abandoned that platform for a simpler one; designed by King, and built with the aid of machinist Oliver Barthel. He drove his first running vehicle in Detroit the next year. Henry Ford followed him literally and figuratively; on a bicycle during Kings first outing, and with his own “Quadricycle” three months later, they had been sharing information and other resources, including Barthel, for some time by then.


Benton Harbor (Autymobile):  (Benton Harbor Michigan) a surrey made by the Baushke Carriage Works (Albert & Louis Baushke). The Autymobile seated 4-passengers in two rows facing forward. It had a 7.5-hp 2-cylinder gasoline engine made by William Worth of Battle Creek, MI, and a stated top speed of 23 mph. Wood spoke wheels with solid rubber tires and friction drive. The motor was severely hampered by a lack of lubrication while running.

The engine was delivered late, after it was installed many problems showed up with the drive system. These were not solved in time for the race.



The Ames steam car: Fine, until the first fast turn.


Albert C. Ames: (South Chicago), Railroad engineer Ames built a steam car with a pair of safety bicycles and a sleigh body––it ran out of water every hundred yards. Two pistons were connected to the pedal cranks, one on each bicycle frame. The body was perched high above the road.            

It was run once at the November 2nd event, indoors, for a hundred feet.


The Lybe Spring Motor Carriage: (Sydney, Iowa) Daniel I. Lybe, patent #466,893 “Velocipede.”

Spring motors have been a back-yard inventor’s favorite since the fourteenth century. Inevitably––something has to wind the spring.


Charles E. Roberts: (Chicago) Screw Machine magnate and mechanical engineer C. E. Roberts, better known as an early patron of Frank Lloyd Wright (an expensive hobby) made a pair of prototype electric Stanhopes, circa 1895-7. Apparently, both were completed too late to compete. The two motor version remains.


Sintz: (Grand Rapids, MI) the Sintz Gas Engine Co.

Clark Sintz made 2-stroke gasoline engines for stationary applications. The Sintz Company demonstrated their engines at the 1893 Exposition, both King and Haynes bought Sintz engines to test for vehicle use. Sintz engineer Harry Kraft helped Haynes build his first car (Pioneer I). Sintz did not have a car ready in time for the race, but they did manufacture cars from 1899-1904.


Hall, John W. & Sons:

Declared ready the night before, but didn’t show up at the start.


George W. Lewis: (Chicago) gasoline (pat. #661,409, with a variable speed friction transmission) 1-cylinder 2-stroke engine, with a bore and stroke of 5”. 1,680 lbs with 780 on the front wheels and 900 at the rear, solid rubber tires. 56” wheelbase and 46½” gauge, with roller bearings.



1893, Keller-Degenhardt, at the Washington Park Club


Keller-Degenhardt:        (Chicago, IL)         Emil Ernest Keller and Frederick E. Degenhardt made only two of the thousand electric tricycle perambulators they promised for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These carried two passengers with the driver perched on a chair up behind them. One of them was demonstrated at the Washington Park Club, but was not raced. Keller was put in charge of installing the Westinghouse electrical system for the Columbian Exposition, so he became quite busy. Keller got patent #523,354 for this “Electrically Propelled Perambulator” issued July 24, 1894. Degenhardt had a steering gear patent, #493,354.


Booth, Dr. Carlos C.        (Youngstown, OH)

A high wheel carriage style, built by the Fredonia Carriage and Manufacturing Co. With a 3-hp Crouch-Built engine (Walker Lee Crouch, Pierce-Crouch Engine Co, New Brighton, PA). Designed by Dr. Booth and thought to be the first automobile used for house calls. Not ready in time for the events.


*“Mile a Minute Murphy,” he achieved record speed in the draft behind a train car with a protective faring added at the back, riding on a specially built plank road between the rails.