Duryea Brothers Test-Drive America’s First Gas-Powered Car
On September 20, 1893, the Duryea brothers successfully tested America’s first gasoline-powered car in Massachusetts.
In the 1890s, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea made a living building bicycles in Springfield (now Chicopee), Massachusetts. In their spare time, the brothers began experimenting with motors. One day they purchased a horse-drawn buggy for $70 and fitted it with a four horsepower single cylinder gasoline engine. They also installed a friction transmission, spray carburetor, and low tension ignition. The brothers took their car for its first test drive on September 20, 1893. They took it for another test drive two months later, on a busier street, and attracted the attention of the local newspaper.
Two years later, Frank drove another Duryea in a race sponsored by the Chicago Times Herald. It was the first known automobile race in America. Cars were so new, race officials didn’t know what to call them. They eventually settled on moto-cycles. The race took place on Thanksgiving Day in 38-degree weather. Only two cars finished, and Frank won the 54-mile race, averaging 7.5 miles per hour.
That win, and the prize money, inspired the brothers to produce more cars. They sold 13 by the end of 1896. That year, one of the automobiles was involved in the world’s first car accident, when a motorist hit a bicyclist and broke the cyclist’s leg. The driver spent the night in jail.
Frank Duryea got out of the auto business around 1900 and began producing guns. Charles moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, and continued to make cars.
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