As a journalist he was intimately aware that in Europe promotional races and similar events had sparked tremendous public interest. It had also provided incentive for inventors to sharpen their focus on the creation of viable technologies.
Utilizing his acumen as a businessman Kohlsaat initiated a brilliant campaign to increase the papers circulation as well as ignite a firestorm of American interest in the automobile. It was to be an unparalleled event built upon a desire “…to promote, encourage, stimulate invention, development and perfection and general adoption of the motor vehicle in the United States.”
The Chicago Times Herald contest included speed but this was only one component. In addition to the display drive, the self propelled vehicles underwent engineering tests designed to measure the vehicles competitiveness against a horse and wagon.
On the last three days of October, 1895, eight vehicles were presented for testing. Initially more than seventy-five entries were received but for a wide array of reasons, most were withdrawn upon publication of rules and conditions.
As a result, the speed and endurance portion of the contest was postponed until Thanksgiving Day. For this segment of the contest, eleven competitors lined up for the fifty-four mile drive.
Even though speeds were ridiculously slow by modern standards, or even by those set by Stanley built cars in 1906, the race was filled with excitement for the spectators. To avoid a street car the Haynes-Apperson entry swerved and smashed a front wheel on a curb. Max Hertel’s entry suffered a broken steering gear. George W. Lewis and A.C. Ames were unable to get their vehicles started.
Driving through the occasionally deep snow proved too much for the Morrison Sturges electric. J. Frank Duryea was forced to wind rope chord around his wheels for traction.
Magnifying the difficulties drivers faced were the brutal weather conditions that included snow drifts resultant of the previous days incredible sixty mile per hour winds, and unseasonably cold temperatures. None of this deterred thousands of spectators from lining the streets to the see the spectacle.
The race had commenced at 8:55 AM [November 28]. At 7:18 PM a bone tired J. Frank Duryea finished in first place. As his vehicle had also passed the engineering tests, he was declared the winner.
The Chicago Times Herald reported, “The progress of the preliminary trials has been watched by thousands of potential manufacturers in every part of the world and there is no doubt that there will be a great interest in the manufacture of these horseless carriages now that it has been demonstrated what can be done with them.”
However, the greatest testimony to the vehicles, and their future, came from Frederick Adams who had attempted to follow Duryea in a light wagon with two horse team. “No horse on earth could have made those fifty-four miles through the slush and mud. To me this fact alone demonstrates more than anything else the great value of the horseless carriage.”
Resultant of the publicity from this race, as well as the first place finish in several others including the 1896 London to Brighton Run, the Duryea brothers manufacturing endeavor was faced with an enviable issue, orders and demand exceeding production capabilities.
In retrospect it would seem that Mr. Kohlsaat had been correct. The race was indeed the needed catalyst.
Within three years of the event, more than 200 automobile manufactures were in operation with a capital investment of $500 million dollars. Riding on these coat tales was the establishment of hundreds of ancillary manufactures.
The dawn of a new century loomed on the horizon. With it came the promise of a brave new world unfettered from the constraints imposed by old Dobbins.
©Jim Hinckley, June 2013, edited November 2016
About the Author: Jim Hinckley is an award winning author and photographer, and an official contributor to Legends Of America through a partnership developed in October 2012. Hinckley is a former Associate Editor of Cars and Parts Magazine, and author of multiple books, including several on Route 66. His latest “The Route 66 Encyclopedia” is available with autograph via Jim Hinckley’s America.