Almost a year after the world saw its first ever motoring contest, the Paris-Rouen, the Chicago Times-Herald newspaper decided to emulate the competitions success and organise what would be the first automobile race in the United States. The paper announced the race on July 10th 1895 with prizes totalling at $5000, which in today’s money would roughly equate to $147,000. Not only was the race a publicity stunt to boost sales for the tabloid but it was an effort to spark growth in the nations young auto industry. In fact it was in this article (after much debate between the editors) the term ‘motocycle’ was first used in replacement of the name ‘horseless carriage’, though don’t confuse them with what we now know as motorcycles, it was used for both cars and bikes in this race.
Initially it was intended that to course be run from its starting point in Chicago North and end in the city of Milwaukee, the roads however were found to be in too poor a condition for the early automobiles to travel on. The route was then changed and would be run from Chicago to Evanston, another city in Illinois, and then back again for a total of 54 miles in the circuit.
It was intended that the race would be run on November 2nd the same year it was announced, though out of eighty three entrants only six arrived on the day which caused the date to be rescheduled. A series of misfortunes lead to the poor turnout, while many of the vehicles weren’t completed in time for the race several entrants simply didn’t manage to complete the journey there and broke down en route making them unable to compete. Two drivers were even stopped by the police before they could arrive; they had to requisition horses to pull their vehicles as they had no right to drive them through the city streets. The race finally took place on November 28th, Thanksgiving in USA. The weather was poor, both muddy and snowy this would be a true test for the automobiles.
There were a total of 4 four-wheeled cars to enter the race, three were German cars designed by Karl Benz whilst the other was an American car by Frank Duryea. The other two vehicles that took part in the race were both two-wheeled vehicles though unfortunately one wasn’t powerful enough to climb one of the grades on the track whilst the other, an electric powered bike, suffered from a dead battery thanks to the weather conditions.
The Duryea automobile was first to finish the race with a completion time of 2 hours and 53 minutes with an average speed of 7mph. The Duryea Motocycle Company won $2000 and a gold medal for their efforts. The race was covered not only in the Chicago Times-Herald but in newspapers all across the country, many of whom predicted that this would be the horse and carriage. Seeing the machine’s capabilities not only on the roads but in poor weather conditions showed people exactly how feasible automated transport was and this race sped up its development in this country by at least five years, in fact commercial production began only a year later.