Thursday, October 9, 2014
October 8: Frank Duryea, the first automobile driver in America, born on this date in 1869
To call the relationship between brothers Charles and Frank Duryea fraught would be an understatement. Charles considered himself a superlative designer; it was his idea in the first place to draw up how a gasoline engine might power a quadracycle, something still revolutionary for the 1880s.
Frank Duryea was just the tinkerer — the greasemonkey in their bicycle shop who might actually build Charles' designs. Which he did; and in September 1893, Frank Duryea drove their creation 600 feet — the first trip of a gas-powered automobile in America.
The brothers would build 13 copies, win the first automobile race and seem destined for greatness. But they weren't; Charles left their firm, determined to sell machines no one really wanted, while Frank Duryea retired by 1919 and lived until 1967. You can see their one successful collaboration in the Smithsonian — and hear it below: