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The 1893 Duryea Automobile In the Museum of History and Technology   By:

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Don H. Berkebile




[Illustration: FIGURE 1. DURYEA AUTOMOBILE in the Museum of History and Technology, from an 1897 photograph. The gear sprockets were already missing when this was taken, and the chain lies loosely on the pinion. Shown at the right, the Duryea vehicle following the recent restoration (Smithsonian photo 34183).]

Don H. Berkebile THE 1893 DURYEA AUTOMOBILE In the Museum of History and Technology

During the last decade of the nineteenth century a number of American engineers and mechanics were working diligently to develop a practical self propelled vehicle employing an internal combustion engine as the motive force. Among these men were Charles and Frank Duryea, who began work on this type of vehicle about 1892. This carriage was operated on the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1893, where its trials were noted in the newspapers. Now preserved in the Museum of History and Technology, it is a prized exhibit in the collection of early automobiles.

It is the purpose of this paper to present some of the facts discovered during the restoration of the vehicle, to show the problems that faced its builders, and to describe their solutions. An attempt also has been made to correlate all this information with reports of the now almost legendary day to day experiences of the Duryeas, as published by the brothers in various booklets, and as related by Frank Duryea during two interviews, recorded on tape in 1956 and 1957, while he was visiting the Smithsonian.

THE AUTHOR: Don H. Berkebile is on the staff of the Museum of History and Technology, in the Smithsonian Institution's United States National Museum.

Of the numerous American automotive pioneers, perhaps among the best known are Charles and Frank Duryea. Beginning their work of automobile building in Springfield, Massachusetts, and after much rebuilding, they constructed their first successful vehicle in 1892 and 1893. No sooner was this finished than Frank, working alone, began work on a second vehicle having a two cylinder engine. With this automobile, sufficient capital was attracted in 1895 to form the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in which both brothers were among the stockholders and directors. A short time after the formation of the company this second automobile was entered by the company in the Chicago Times Herald automobile race on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895, where Frank Duryea won a victory over the other five contestants two electric automobiles and three Benz machines imported from Germany.

In the year following this victory Frank, as engineer in charge of design and construction, completed the plans begun earlier for a more powerful automobile. During 1896 the company turned out thirteen identical automobiles, the first example of mass production in American automotive history.[1] Even while these cars were under construction Frank was planning a lighter vehicle, one of which was completed in October of 1896. This machine was driven to another victory by Frank Duryea on November 14, 1896, when he competed once again with European built cars in the Liberty Day Run from London to Brighton. The decision to race and demonstrate their autos abroad was the result of the company's desire to interest foreign capital, yet Frank later felt they might better have used their time and money by concentrating on building cars and selling them to the local market. Subsequently, in the fall of 1898, Frank arranged for the sale of his and Charles' interest in the company, and thereafter the brothers pursued separate careers... Continue reading book >>

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