What To Know: The Duryea Brothers and the First American Car

What To Know: The Duryea Brothers and the First American Car

Have you ever wondered who created the first American car? You can thank the Duryea brothers of Canton, Illinois, for making the US auto industry a reality. If you want to learn more about this powerful pair and their revolutionary creation, here’s what to know about the Duryea brothers and the first American car.

Who Were the Duryea Brothers?

Charles and Frank Duryea were brothers born in Canton, Illinois, in the 1860s. After graduating high school, the duo moved to Washington, DC, to work in the bicycle business. After roughly a decade of sojourning in the American capital, they returned home to the Prairie state, and settled in Springfield. What did they do next? Tinker with cars.

The First American Car

Charles and Frank are credited with creating the first functional, gas-powered American car. So, what was America’s first gas car like? Dubbed the “motor wagon,” the Duryea brothers’ creation was a $70 horse-drawn buggy that featured a 4-horsepower single-cylinder gas engine, a friction transmission, a spray carburetor, and low-tension ignition. It was engineered by Charles and built and tested by Frank.

Frank tested it first on a small farm, and then on the busy streets of Springfield, where it awed the passersby. In November 1895, the brothers entered their motor wagon in America’s first car race, the Chicago Times-Herald race. It blew its competitors out of the water and took the crown.

The Duryea Motor Wagon Company

That same year, the Duryea brothers founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company and began commercial production of their famed automotive. The first ten production vehicles they made were the first working autos sold in the US. They sold 13 cars in total during the company’s first year, most of which were snatched up by doctors.

The brothers eventually had a fallout, but both continued in the automotive business. Frank made his own car and paired it with the J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company to produce it. He produced and sold Stevens-Duryea cars until 1927. Charles stuck with the original Duryea company for as long as he could, but due to arguments among the company’s partners, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company went out of business in 1907. But Charles didn’t give up after the unfortunate demise of his business; he continued to produce vehicles for many years. His most notable inventions were the Buggyaut and the Duryea GEM.

The Impact

The most important thing to know about the Duryea brothers and the first American car is their legacy. As the first successful American automakers, the Duryea bros set the foundation for the US automotive industry. Cars have changed immensely from the basic buggies of the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the sleek, modern cars of today wouldn’t have been possible without the Duryea’s humble motor wagon.

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