1895 The Great Chicago Race
America's first race featuring gasoline-powered automobiles was held on this day in Chicago, Illinois, with six vehicles competing: two electric cars, three German Benz automobiles, and one American-made Duryea automobile. Charles and Frank Duryea of Peoria, Illinois, had completed America's first working gasoline-powered automobile in 1893, and to the Great Chicago Race, as it would come to be known, the brothers brought a vastly improved two-cylinder model. The race was organized by Chicago Times-Herald Publisher Herman H. Kohlstaat, who had announced in early 1895 that his newspaper would sponsor a major race between horseless carriages. Kohlstaat, who was offering $5,000 in prizes, including a first-place prize of $2,000, received telegrams from automobile enthusiasts across America and Europe. At the request of entrants still working on their automobile prototypes, Kohlstaat agreed to delay the race, originally scheduled for the summer, until November 28, Thanksgiving Day. When the fateful day finally came, the streets of Chicago were covered with several inches of snow, but six of the 80 original entrants had managed to show up. Because of weather conditions, the course was shortened to a 52-mile round-trip out of Chicago and back. The flag dropped and Frank Duryea and his five competitors drove into automotive history. A few miles into the race, both electric cars broke down, leaving the Duryea brothers to contend with the three Benz vehicles. The German-built Benz cars, driven by two Americans and a German, were no match for Frank and the powerful two-cylinder Duryea automobile. After 10 1/2 hours, despite an accidental two-mile detour, Frank crossed the finish line with no other car in sight, having achieved an average speed of 7.5mph during the race. The only other vehicle to finish, a Benz driven by German Oscar Mueller, completed the race an hour and a half later.