Monday, March 5, 2012

Road Racing, 1908 style

In February of 1908, six cars - one each from Germany, Italy, and the United States, and three from France - lined up in New York to race westward around the world toward a finish line in Paris. One of the French cars collapsed in the first day of the race, and American train companies (on whose tracks the vehicles often had to drive) and repair shops gave their home country’s vehicle an edge. Travel through Alaska and Siberia in the middle of winter proved to be a fool’s errand, and all three remaining cars rerouted to Seattle, and then to Japan and Vladivostok by way of a steamer ship. The cars got stuck in the spring mud with regularity, and at one point the American team, led by Buffalo mechanic George Schuster, pulled Army Lieutenant Hans Koeppen and the German car out of the mire. In Europe, the Americans had mechanical problems and the German team reached the finish line three days early - however, they were penalized 30 days for skipping Alaska, and using a freight train to get their car across the Rocky Mountains. George Schuster and his Thomas Flyer therefore won the road race around the world by 26 days, proving to the general public that automobiles could be reliant long-distance transportation, and propelling the American car manufacturing industry to prominence. Schuster, as it turns out, would never get his $1,000 reward, and the Thomas company went belly-up only four years later.

Links and Sources:
Wikipedia
"New York to Paris the Hard Way, 100 Years Ago", by Jerry Garrett, in The New York Times, Feb. 10, 2008.
Race of the Century: The Heroic True Story of the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race, by Julie M. Fenster, Three Rivers Publishing, 2005.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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