The Driving Spirit (Automotive Hall of Fame) Sibling Rivalry The story of the Duryea Brothers is about a sibling rivalry of epic proportions. For most of the 20th Century, it was commonly believed that Charles Edgar Duryea (1861 - 1938) was...
The Driving Spirit (Automotive Hall of Fame)
The story of the Duryea Brothers is about a sibling rivalry of epic proportions.
For most of the 20th Century, it was commonly believed that Charles Edgar Duryea (1861 - 1938) was the inventor of the first American gasoline-powered automobile, driven in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 22, 1893 and also the winner of the first American automobile race, sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald, in 1895.
Younger brother James Franklin Duryea (1869 - 1967) spent his entire life trying to convince the world that he, in fact, could lay claim to both statements or at least share the credit. He argued that Charles had moved from Springfield to Peoria, Illinois in September 1892, and was not even present on that historic day in Springfield in 1893.
Charles claimed to have driven a gasoline-powered vehicle in his second-floor shop in 1892 and the famous car driven in 1893 was built from blueprints of his creation.
Frank claimed that Charles' blueprints resulted in an unworkable vehicle and that he had to redesign the car's engine and transmission, creating new blueprints to do so.
"With perhaps the most difficult parts of the car, such as carburetor, hot tube ignition and a method of controlling the engine and transmission yet to be designed, Charles moved to Peoria, Illinois leaving me full responsibility for carrying on this work," said Frank Duryea in 1945.
Charles claimed to have won the first American automobile race in Chicago in 1895. "It is my belief that I designed and built the first gasoline automobile to run in America," Charles recalled in 1931, "and won the first two American races."
Frank argued that he himself won the race in a car of his own design and that his brother Charles followed in a horse-driven sleigh.
Even though the Smithsonian Institution eventually recognized Frank Duryea's equal contribution decades later, Frank spent the rest of his life trying to prove that he was the true "Father of the American Automobile." Until he died, Charles insisted that his brother Frank was merely his employee.
So who should get credit for creating the first gasoline-powered automobile in America? It appears that Charles Duryea was the visionary, but it was Frank Duryea's perseverance and technical expertise that made the car a reality.
Even though the Duryea Brothers each wanted to take sole credit for building America's first automobile, the fact remains that the car would never have been completed without the contributions of them both. And without that completed automobile, someone else in America would have been credited with building the first American gasoline automobile, most likely Elwood Haynes of Kokomo, Indiana, who built his first car in 1893 and drove it in 1894.
Charles E. Duryea was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1966. Younger brother J. Franklin Duryea was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame 30 years later in 1996.
Please join us on Saturday, July 17 for the 5th Annual Hall of Fame Classic, "Crimson Rides," an exhibition limited to just 40 superior red automobiles, to benefit the Automotive Hall of Fame Museum and Educational Programs. Gates open at 9am and close at 4pm. Admission is $5, which also gives you access to the Automotive Hall of Fame museum and exhibits. For moreinformation, call 313-240-4000, or 888-29-VISIT. The Automotive Hall of Fame is located at 21400 Oakwood Blvd. in Dearborn, Michigan.