The First American Gasoline Powered Automobile
A pair of mid-western born and raised brothers making a living as bicycle manufacturers and repairmen use their spare time to invent a machine which forever changed transportation all over the world. Not referring to the Wright Brothers here, though the sentence certainly describes them. The brothers in question here are Frank and Charles Duryea, and they gave the United States its first successful gasoline powered automobile, in an area north of Springfield, MA which is now Chicopee. Their car was also the winner of the first automobile race to be held in North America, defeating three entries from Germany.
Charles and Frank Duryea purchased a used horse buggy and removed the traces. They installed a one cylinder motor which was capable of producing up to 4 horsepower, less than most modern gasoline burning lawnmowers. Steering was via a tiller. The buggy was open, seated the driver and one passenger, and after its first racing victory was followed by another, it became immediately popular. The Duryea Motor Wagon Company was established in Chicopee to build their car. In 1996 the Duryea brothers produced 13 of their Motor Wagons. Charles ran the business side of the enterprise while Frank concentrated on the engineering
Besides winning America’s first automobile race a Duryea Motor Wagon holds the honor of being the first American automobile to be involved in an accident with another vehicle. In this case it was a bicycle. A Duryea owner named Henry Wells was driving his Motor Wagon in New York City when he struck a cyclist, breaking the unfortunate rider’s leg. Wells spent the night in custody and his Motor Wagon was returned to the factory for repairs. The brothers eventually produced more than one model of car, but the hand-building process and the cost of the materials made the price of Duryea Cars prohibitive to all but the wealthiest customers. George Vanderbilt enjoyed his.
Costs and ways to alleviate them soon became a problem between the brothers and led to them splitting up early in the twentieth century. Charles Duryea relocated to Reading, Pennsylvania and continued to build Duryea automobiles. Duryea envisioned a mass produced lower priced car for sale to workers, but the costs of retooling and a suitable design for the car eluded him. Almost a decade after Henry Ford introduced the Model T, Duryea released a model which cost only $250 and ran on three wheels. It failed to attract much attention from the buying public
Besides the Duryea and its several different models produced over the years, Massachusetts factories produced cars from other companies. Many are surprised to learn that the British Rolls-Royce was built in Massachusetts in the 1920s (the American built models switched to left-hand drive in 1925). The Rolls-Royce plant in Springfield continued to operate until 1935. The Knox Automobile Company, also in Springfield, built cars, trucks, and farm equipment and in 1935 introduced a new type of vehicle to the world, the gasoline powered purpose built fire engine.