First USA Race: Chicago Times-Herald Race

Written by Carly Hallman

The Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the first car race in the United States. The race was held on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895. Six cars participated in the race on that morning and unfortunate snow storm had occurred the day before the race, resulting in treacherous road conditions for the racers. The race involved a loop between Chicago and Evanston, covering slightly more than 50 miles in total.

In July of 1895, the Chicago Times-Herald announced the race to the public, offering a grand prize of $5,000 to the winner. The goals of the race were twofold — to bolster newspaper circulation and to promote the brand-new automobile industry. At this time in America, horseless carriages were so new that they didn’t even have a name yet. Therefore, the newspaper also offered participants a chance to win a second prize by suggesting names for this new invention. Response to the announcement was significant. President Cleveland decided to request the War Department to monitor the event.

  • The Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895 – The first motor car race in the United States, the Chicago Times-Herald Race, was originally scheduled to occur in October or early November of that year. Officials were forced to reschedule it because contestants were not ready to race.
  • Chicago Times-Herald Automobile Race of 1895 – Temperatures on race day were about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind was drifting the snow over the roadways.
  • The First American Automobile Race – After the completion of the race, the Duryea brothers produced 13 copies of the car used in the race.

Although 83 people entered the race, only six vehicles arrived on the morning of the race to take part in the competition. Some vehicles were not ready for the competition, and many encountered problems while traveling to the race location. Four of the participating vehicles had four wheels, and two vehicles had two wheels. Race rules required two occupants in each vehicle — the contest driver and an umpire.

The race began at 8:55 in the morning. Drivers encountered rutted roadways, icy conditions, and snow drifts. Drivers also experienced some mechanical problems with their vehicles, necessitating repairs. An electric car participating in the race could not continue due to a dead battery. One car was involved in an accident with a horse and dropped out. A steep grade eliminated another vehicle that could not climb it in the slippery conditions.

Frank Duryea persevered with the race and managed to cross the finish line after almost eight hours of driving. Only one other car finished the race, a Mueller-Benz auto driven by Charles Brady King. King was the assigned umpire for this vehicle. He was forced to take over the driving task when original driver Oscar B. Mueller lost consciousness due to exposure to the freezing temperatures throughout the long day of driving. The other four cars dropped out of the race. The total amount of gas used by gas-powered vehicles for the race was 3.5 gallons.

  • Duryea Automobile and Times Race – The Duryea Wagon was the name of the car designed and produced by Charles and Frank Duryea. This vehicle featured designs that were significantly different from other cars of the day.
  • The Chicago Times-Herald Motor Race – The snowy conditions of the race route left miles of roadway ice-covered and virtually impassable due to high snow drifts.

After the race, newspaper accounts of the contest were excitedly predicting the great future of automobile transportation. This publicity was instrumental in pushing forward automobile design and development. One year after this race, commercial production of the car began. Within three years of the Chicago Times-Herald race, over 50 car companies were operating in the United States.