America’s First Gasoline Powered Auto

It was on this date 119 years ago that the very first American built gasoline powered automobile had its very first road test. Charles Duryea and his brother J Frank Duryea took their contraption out for a spin to find out if it could actually function.  It did quite well.  The first proving ground was their hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts.

After some tinkering and fine tuning, the Duryea brothers brought out their automobile for a public unveiling on November 10th.  They drove it down their street in Springfield.  The event was reported excitedly by the local newspaper.  The car was then placed into storage in 1894.

The brothers spent $70 of their hard-earned dollars for the recycled horse drawn buggy that was the car’s platform. The Duryea “Motor Wagon” utilized a one cylinder, four-horsepower engine.  Their vehicle featured a low tension electrical ignition and a primitive spray-type carburetor. The powertrain consisted of a friction transmission.

Charles designed and engineered more vehicles and Frank set about the task of actually building them then testing to make sure they worked.

November 28th, 1895 a Duryea motor wagon defeated a German made Benz car in the first American car race.  The cars drove at a blistering 7.5 mph from Chicago to Evanston and then returned.  The win caused demand to grow for more motor wagons.
The following year, Charles and Frank hand built 13 of the vehicles. This automatically gave Duryea the status of first ever produced automobile for commercial distribution.  By default, the brothers owned the largest auto factory in America.  The Duryea Motor Wagon Company was off and running.  The brothers built cars together until 1899, then they split.

Frank partnered with the Stevens’ Firearm Company to build Stevens-Duryea autos.  Charles produced his own cars until 1901.  Charles then partnered with a Reading, Pennsylvania industrialist and began building three-wheeled, three horsepower cars at the rate of about one per week.

In 1905, Charles’ plant had expanded to 50 employees who built about 60 autos each year.  The pride of the factory was the four wheeled Phaeton.  The cars were a great success, however a corporate squabble caused the business to close in 1907.

On his own again, Charles began building his “Buggyaut” which looked very much like a standard horse-drawn buggy, without the horses. The Buggyaut was a limited success. The dissappointed Charles closed his garage in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Charles made one last attempt in 1916, with financing from a fellow Reading businessman he build the Duryea GEM.  It was a hybrid of the car and the motorcycle.  The car was affordable and inexpensive to drive.  Duryea said the GEM could achieve 65 miles per gallon.  Only a dozen were built.  A lack of further funding caused the closing of production and the end of Charles Duryea’s business.


The Blue Jay of Happiness reminds you to drive defensively.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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