|The 1896 Duryea in The Henry Ford Museum|
During my recent trip to the Concours d'Elegance of America in MI, we stopped at The Henry Ford Museum (now know simply as The Henry Ford). This collection is enormous, encompassing far more than cars. Of course, the cars are what interests me and they have numerous important cars in their collection. Sitting quietly in the back row (and not particularly noticed by the passing crowds) is the landmark 1896 Duryea. This car represents the very first "production" automobile made in America. After Frank Duryea's success in the 1895 Time-Herald race in Chicago, the brothers formed The Duryea Motor Wagon Company in Springfield, MA. In 1896 they produced 13 identical vehicles (I use the term "identical" loosely as these cars were essentially hand made) for the purpose of selling to the public. To publicize their new cars the brothers gave one (1 of the 13 produced in 1896) to the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Additionally, Frank took two of the cars to the inaugural running of the London to Brighton trails the same year. It was reported that the Duryeas performed well, passing all other participants and arriving first in Brighton (Scientific American December 19, 1896). This car is the only remaining 1896 Duryea from the original 13 known to exist. It's impressive ownership history includes being "rescued" by George Waterman in the 1930s. Mr. Waterman (along with Mr. Gibson) is an important early collector of automobiles (together they helped found the VMCCA). Incidentally, Dad had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Waterman's daughter a number of years ago where he purchased one the scale models made of Waterman's cars (by Saul Santos). The 1896 Duryea next shows up in a postcard image from Henry Austin Clark Jr's Long Island Auto Museum. The car then found it's way into the Winthrop Rockefeller collection from which it was donated to The Henry Ford. As described by The Henry Ford, the car was quite innovative for the time: The two-cylinder engine has a float-bowl carburetor that was rare and very modern. The control tiller is an ergonomic marvel combining the functions of today's steering wheel, gear shift and throttle. Swinging the tiller left or right turns the car while movement up and down shifts the gears. A twist of the handle controls the throttle. The tiller shaft even telescopes in and out for ease of entry and exit from the vehicle.