October 8, 1869 – Frank Duryea is born

On this day in 1869 in a little town called Wyoming, Illinois a mother gave birth to a son and he was named James Frank Duryea. James, who would go by Frank in his later years, along with his brother Charles, introduced America to the automobile. Charles was the engineer of the two, Frank being the mechanic. They both researched internal combustion engines and Charles designed a vehicle. They secured a space in a machine shop in Springfield, Mass., from a $1,000 investment provided by Erwin Markham. This money also paid for a variety of parts, a horse buggy and Frank’s $3 a day salary. Charles left Frank with the design for the automobile and headed to Illinois in pursuit of other professional goals. Frank spent 10 hours a day bringing the drawing to life. He worked out issues with the ignition, fuel system, transmission and even developed a method for deafening the noise produced by their engine. On September 22, 1893 Frank took the automobile out for its first test drive. After demonstrating success the brothers sold 480 $100 shares of their company to launch Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1895. They became the first mass producer of automobiles in the United States. On November 28, 1895, Frank entered one of his vehicles into the first motor race in America, a 54 mile loop between Evanston and Chicago, Illinois. Duryea took first place, beating several other vehicles, including multiple electric vehicles, in 10 hours and 23 minutes with an average speed of 5 ¼ MPH. Frank passed away in Saybrook, Connecticut on Feb. 15, 1967 at the age of 97. He was the last surviving member of the auto industry’s founding fathers. In 1996 he was inducted in the Automotive Hall of Fame. Pic: Charles Duryea, left, and Frank in one of their early automobiles.

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