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The Duryea Brothers and Their Duryea Motor Wagon

The First American Car

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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Do you know what the first American car was?

No? That's okay, it happened a long time ago, before the turn of the last century.

It was the Duryea Motor Wagon.

The history of the automobile is a murky one. Truth be told, the original concept dates back to at least the 1600s, but it's generally accepted that it was Karl Benz that developed the first modern automobile with his Benz Patent-Motorwagen, in 1885 — although, the first successful execution of an "automobile" happened in the 1700s...depending upon your definitions of "automobile" and "success."

The first American version was a one-off, amphibious, and came about in 1805, the Oruktor Amphibolos — conceived and built by Oliver Evans.

The Duryea Motor Wagon, however, was the first, real, driving, steering, personal transportation developed in the United States, shortly following Benz's success.

Coined a "Ladies' Phaeton," the one-cylinder, four horsepower Duryea Motor Wagon was also the first American car to go into production.

In fact, it was the second Duryea Motor Wagon built, which was produced in 1895, that won the first American automobile race, the Chicago Times-Herald Race in 1896. It traveled 54 miles and finished in seven hours, 53 minutes, averaging seven miles per hour. The purpose of the race as devised by its promoters, was to show the world the coming of this new technology and the end of horse-powered transportation as they knew it.

The Duryea Motor Wagon went on to take first and second at the Cosmopolitan Race in New York in 1896 on Decoration Day (we now know it as Memorial Day), and it even went across the pond to participate in the Emancipation Run in November of that same year, which ran from London to Brighton, England. Although not an actual race, the Duryea was the first to cross the finish line in the Emancipation Run as well.

The Duryea also has the notoriety of being the first car in a motor vehicle accident in the United States, again, in 1896.

The Duryea Motor Wagon was developed and built by the Duryea Brothers, Charles and Frank in 1893. In 1895, they launched the Duryea Motor Wagon Company before parting ways around the end of the century. By 1917, the Duryea was history.

The Duryea Motor Wagon Company might not be remembered by a lot of people, but it played a crucial role in the development of the automobile here in America, and even, around the world.


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