Charles Duryea

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Charles Edgar Duryea
Charles Duryea (left) with J. Frank Duryea
Born(1861-12-15)December 15, 1861
DiedSeptember 28, 1938(1938-09-28) (aged 76)

Charles Edgar Duryea (December 15, 1861 – September 28, 1938) was the engineer of the first-ever working American gasoline-powered car and co-founder of Duryea Motor Wagon Company.[1] He was born near Canton, Illinois, the son of George Washington Duryea and Louisa Melvina Turner and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but spent most of his life working in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was in Springfield that Charles and his brother, Frank, produced and road-tested America's first gasoline-powered car.[2][page needed]

1894 Duryea Automobile at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum


He was born on December 15, 1861 near Canton, Illinois to George Washington Duryea and Louisa Melvina Turner.[3]

Charles Duryea and his brother Frank (1869–1967) were initially bicycle makers in Washington, D.C., but later became world-renowned as the first American gasoline-powered car manufacturers, headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts. Generally speaking, Charles engineered the automobiles, while Frank built, tested and raced them.[4]

Tests of the first, gasoline-powered automobile[edit]

On September 21, 1893, the Duryea Brothers road-tested the first-ever, working American gasoline-powered automobile on the Howard Bemis farm in Chicopee, Massachusetts[5]. The Duryea's "motor wagon" was a used horse drawn buggy that the brothers had purchased for $70 and into which they had installed a 4 HP, single cylinder gasoline engine. The car (buggy) had a friction transmission, spray carburetor and low tension ignition.[6] Frank Duryea test drove it again on November 10[6] — this time in a prominent location: past their garage at 47 Taylor Street in Springfield. The next day it was reported[6] by The Republican newspaper with great fanfare.[7]

This particular car was put into storage in 1894 and stayed there until 1920, when it was rescued by a former Duryea engineer Inglis M. Uppercu[8] and presented to the United States National Museum.[6]

He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1973.[9][10]

The Duryea Motor Wagon Company[edit]

Mayor William P. Yoerg, of Holyoke (center-left), also a tire salesman and garage owner, presents an award to Charles Duryea for being the first to use pneumatic tires on an automobile, effectively starting the American automobile tire industry[11]

On November 28, 1895 in Chicago, their vehicle, driven by brother Frank, had won America's first car race. It ran to Evanston, Illinois and back. The only other finisher was one of three Benz cars mostly made in Germany. After Frank won, demand grew for the Duryea Motor Wagon. In 1896, the Duryea Brothers produced 13 cars by hand — in their garage at 47 Taylor Street — and thus Duryea became the first-ever commercially produced vehicle, and also the largest automobile factory in the United States.[12] For the history of the company and its cars, see Duryea Motor Wagon Company.[13]

Charles Duryea sought out investors and buyers while his brother, Frank Duryea, primarily handled the mechanical side of the business.[14]

A Duryea car was involved in America's first known auto accident.[15] 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.[15] In 1913, George Vanderbilt purchased and drove a Stevens-Duryea, but was one of few people in the United States who could afford one. His 1913 Duryea is Vanderbilt's only original car kept at his Biltmore Estate.[16]

Duryea ceased manufacturing in 1917.[13]

Charles Duryea died of a heart attack[17] in Philadelphia on September 28, 1938 and was buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery, West Oak Lane.[18][1]


The annual Duryea Hillclimb is named in his honor.[19]

See also[edit]

  • Elwood Haynes, previously credited with the first American gasoline automobile by the Smithsonian Institution


  1. ^ a b "Charles E. Duryea, Auto Pioneer, Dies. Credited With Building First 'Gasoline Buggy'. Tested in 1892 in Springfield. Car Now In Smithsonian. Won First Race for Horseless Carriages. Inventor of Many Improvements. Tablet Honors Achievement. Won First Automobile Race. Invented Bicycle Improvements". The New York Times. September 29, 1938. Retrieved 2012-09-11. Charles E. Duryea, sometimes called the "father of the automobile," died in his home here at 9 A. M. today after an illness of about a year and a half. He was in his seventy-fifth [sic] year.
  2. ^ May, George W. (January 1, 1996) [1973]. Charles E. Duryea, Automaker. Zero-g Press. ISBN 978-1889849027.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d Ehtesham (2009-03-06). "Cars: Duryea's First Car 1893 CE". Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Aeromarine". Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  9. ^ "Duryea Brothers". Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  10. ^ "Charles E. Duryea". Hall of Fame Inductees. Automotive Hall of Fame. 1973. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  11. ^ "New England in Motor History; 1890 to 1916". The Automobile Journal. 41: 9. February 25, 1916.
  12. ^ "Frank Duryea wins first U.S. horseless-carriage race – This Day in History – 11/28/1895". Archived from the original on 2011-02-08. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  13. ^ a b Berkbile, Don. The 1893 Duryea Automobile, (1964).
  14. ^ "Duryeas First but It Didn't Last", Automotive News. News Pg. 3 February 26, 1996
  15. ^ a b "The Duryea Brothers — Automobile History". 2010-09-16. Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  16. ^ "Our Story — Preservation — Vintage Car". Retrieved 2012-03-09.
  17. ^ "Charles Duryea, auto's inventor, taken by death". Ellensburg Daily Record. September 28, 1938. p. 3. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Auto Inventor Dies. Charles Duryea Credited With First Gasoline Buggy". Associated Press. September 29, 1938. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
  19. ^ "Duryea / Pagoda". PA Hillclimb Association. Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association. 2017. Retrieved November 10, 2017. Named for the obscure automobile maker and following the same route that Charles Duryea used to test his cars.

Further reading[edit]

Duryea, Charles; Homans, James E. (1916) The Automoble Book Sturgis & Walton, New York; at Open Library. The first chapter briefly surveys the early evolution of automobiles, with mention of his own involvement from 1891 and the famous victory of the Duryea Motor Wagon in the first London-to Brighton race (1996).

External links[edit]