What an irony that Two Bicycle Makers, (brothers actually), became America's first gasoline-powered car makers. Charles and Frank Duryea were keenly interested in the compelling new gasoline engines and in imported automobiles., and so they set about to build themselves some cars. It should be noted that these two were certainly curious tinkerers, and continued to pursue challenges of both engineering, and to score them some wins in their need for speed. Somewhat laughable today, These were not the speediest machines, in fact some contemporaries on bikes rode beside them in their inaugural road race. The Duryea Bros. participated in races, nearly as soon as they had a working prototype; Of course they did.
Frank & Charles Duryea became the first Americans to launch a successful commercial automobile company, and they were thrilled to participate in any challenge which would get them needed market exposure. The brothers Duryea were also the first to incorporate their American business to build automobiles for sale to the public. They studied the internal combustion engine at their public library, and after begging, everyone for start-up capital, they set about to make something so pedestrians and cyclists would forever live in fear of crazy drivers.
At 8:55 am on November 28, 1895, six motor cars set off from Chicago's Jackson Park for a 54-mile (slow car) race to Evanston, Illinois -- and back through the snow to the park. Incidentally this is a route that I do in my bicycle in about half the time, but one could argue the roads are a bit nicer today... I'm not so certain.
Car Number 5 driven by inventor Frank Duryea, won the race in just over 10 hours at an average speed between 5.4 & 7.3 mph. This "Thanksgiving day Race" pitted him against three imported Benzes and two electric cars. Charles helped, his brother Frank cracking a crop to speed his horse-drawn sleigh through a snow-storm supporting his brother with parts and repairs for the car. Bad weather forced these cars to slip & slide into each other and snowbanks. Frank Duryea was the only one to actually finish the race.
The winner of the annual Thanksgiving race scored $2,000. (more than $50,000. In today’s money).
An automobile enthusiast from the crowd notable for giving these new horseless vehicles the name "motorcycles" won $500. The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald Newspaper and after the thrilling race they published, "Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization." Wow!!
As far as staying power is concerned, most early inventions explode, deteriorate, completely flop before getting legs, or immediately become eclipsed by a new fashion, or a far better contraption. The namesake Duryea automobile, and later sold only 13 units, before the brothers arguments split them up. Frank continued to tinker and became quite successful with his new "Steven's Duryea" automobile which was sold in a more-or-less similar and expensive limousine version from 1896 into the 1920's. The initial hand-built buggy was little more than a carriage, tiller for steering and a motor., It was a handsome, and efficient machine for its time. Fully Formed in Springfield, Massachusetts -- within one year of their Chicago Publicity race, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company soon disbanded, with Charles pursuing different trades, and Frank following his dreams to build a better machine than Benz. Before the two split and Frank formed his second company, the two made many new ideas work — But Frank would later invest considerable time in a 6 cylinder engine. Frank Partnered with the Steven's Firearm Manufacturing Company to build his new engines and 3 models, and so Steven’s investment in both the company and manufacturing brought Stevens primary naming rights. The second phaeton was an expensive limousine, which remained in production in some form for 20 plus years, making Frank and Steven’s quite wealthy.
Two months after their first winning race, "Customer Number 3" -- A New York City motorist, Mr. Henry Wells Esq., struck a cyclist piloting the original Duryea. The rider suffered bruises, and a broken leg..., and Mr. Henry Wells spent a night in the city jail. This auspicious incident became the nation's first recorded traffic accident, and injury.
Is it any wonder that the first ironic American Automobile crash of any kind, was some rich dude striking a cyclist, in a car built by Bike Makers?
It is only comforting to recall that these sweet rolling coffins hit a top speed downhill with a tailwind of no more than 14 Mph, the average speed of a bicycle in America today.
Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.