On This Day

charles duryea, duryea car
Associated Press
Charles Duryea

On This Day: Duryea Brothers Test Drive First Gas-Powered Car in America

September 20, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Sept. 20, 1893, Charles Duryea drove the first gasoline-powered car developed in the United States, according to he and his brother Frank.

Duryeas Claim to Be Inventors of First Car

Indiana inventor Elwood Haynes is generally credited with building the first gasoline-powered car, the Pioneer, which was successfully tested on July 4, 1894. However, there is evidence that the first car was test driven a year before Haynes’ Pioneer.

The Duryea brothers, Charles and Frank, had worked together making bicycles before they began experimenting with motors in a Springfield, Mass., loft in the early 1890s. It was there that they would build and test drive a gas-powered car.

They claimed that the car was completed before Haynes’ Pioneer. Charles said it was driven in 1892, but Frank set the date at Sept. 20, 1893, a claim supported by local newspaper accounts.
The Duryeas’ car had the frame of a buggy with four metal tires and a one-cylinder, four-horsepower, gas-powered engine. It is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution, which received it in 1920.

The Duryeas would go on to create 13 identical cars to sell in 1896, making them the first American company to move “from making one car to making multiple copies for sale,” according to the Smithsonian.

The Duryeas’ Later Accomplishments

The production of motorized cars grew quickly after the debut of Haynes’ Pioneer, so much so that a Nov. 28, 1895, race, considered the first auto race in U.S. history, drew 70 entries. The Duryeas, who had built a second car with a two-cylinder engine, were one of the six entries admitted into the race, a 54-mile round-trip course from Chicago to Evanston.

Facing two electric cars and three gasoline-powered Benz cars from Germany, Frank Duryea raced to victory, finishing the race in just over 10 hours at an average of 7.3 miles per hour.

The next year, the brothers started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in Springfield,the first American car company. Duryea Motor Wagon made 13 cars, but went under in 1898, according to The Henry Ford museum.

After their car company failed, they parted. Frank went on to make another car, called the Stevens-Duryea, while Charles started a company that made a three-cylinder auto.

Charles Duryea summarized what he and his brother had accomplished in their lives in a May 16, 1931, article for The Saturday Evening Post called “It Doesn't Pay to Pioneer.” In it, he wrote that they “designed and built the first gasoline automobile to actually run in America, sold the first car on this side, did the first automobile advertising, and won the first two American races.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines