The Duryea Brothers of Automobile History

The Duryea Motor Wagon

America's first gasoline-powered commercial car manufacturers were two brothers, Charles Duryea and Frank Duryea. The brothers were bicycle makers who became interested in the new gasoline engines and automobiles.

Charles Duryea and Frank Duryea were the first Americans to build a successful commercial automobile and the first to incorporate an American business for the expressed purpose of building automobiles for sale to the public.

Duryea Motor Wagon Company

On September 20, 1893, the Duryea brothers' first automobile was constructed and successfully tested on the public streets of Springfield, Massachusetts. Charles Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1896, the first company to manufacture and sell gasoline-powered vehicles. By 1896, the company had sold thirteen cars of the model Duryea, an expensive limousine, which remained in production into the 1920s.

America's First Automobile Race

At 8:55 am on November 28, 1895, six motor cars left Chicago's Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois and back through the snow. Car Number 5 driven by inventor Frank Duryea, won the race in just over 10 hours at an average speed of 7.3 mph.

The winner earned $2,000, the enthusiast from the crowd who gave the horseless vehicles the new name of "motorcycles" won $500, and the Chicago Times-Herald Newspaper that sponsored the race wrote, "Persons who are inclined to decry the development of the horseless carriage will be forced to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization."

America's First Recorded Automobile Accident

In March 1896, Charles and Frank Duryea offered for sale the first commercial automobile, the Duryea motor wagon. Two months later, New York City motorist Henry Wells hit a bicyclist with his new Duryea. The rider suffered a broken leg, Wells spent a night in jail and the nation's first traffic accident was recorded.

  • Charles Duryea (1861 to 1938)
  • Frank Duryea (1870 to 1967)
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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The Duryea Brothers of Automobile History." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). The Duryea Brothers of Automobile History. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The Duryea Brothers of Automobile History." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).