September 13, 1899 – The first person killed by an automobile in the US

New York City in 1899

On this day in 1899 Henry Bliss was exiting a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York City when he was struck by an electric taxicab driven by Arthur Smith. The vehicle crushed Bliss’ head and chest, causing him to die from his injuries by the next morning, making him the first person to be killed by an automobile in the United States. Smith, who was ferrying Dr. David Edson, the son of former NYC Mayor Franklin Edson, was charged with manslaughter, but was later acquitted.

Henry Bliss in 1873

On the 100th anniversary of the event a plaque was placed and dedicated at the intersection where the accident occurred. It reads, “Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.”

The dedication ceremony was attended by the great-granddaughter of Bliss, who placed flowers where the accident occurred. Read the original New York Times article about the event here.

Cover photo – Fourteenth St., looking east from Broadway, New York, 1899, Library of Congress archives.

September 12, 1918 – 4 months, 16,000 miles, 48 state capitals, 1 troubled car company

Revere Automobile

Erwin “Cannonball” Baker is perhaps best known for his record setting transcontinental motorcycle rides, but on this day in 1918 he completed a four wheel trip that took him to every existing state capital. What was as much a reliability test as it was a promotional run for Revere Automobiles (1917-1924), of Logansport, Indiana, Baker departed on his journey in June of 1918. It is widely believed that Baker did not drive a production vehicle, but instead the first ReVere prototype that emerged from the factory on August 25, 1917. This car rolled out of the plant equipped with a Duesenberg four cylinder engine, but no body. Baker supposedly drove the body-less car to Racine, Wisconsin, where it received a touring body from Racine Manufacturing Company.

Erwin Cannonball Baker

Most ReVeres made before 1922 were only built upon order, and came with a Duesenberg motor. The most well known customer of ReVere was King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who ordered a Sport Victoria in 1919 for a whopping $7,800. Unfortunately financial troubles, crooked owners and bad orders would grind the company to a halt by 1926.

A ReVere fit for a King

Upon completion of his criss-cross country trip on this day in 1918, Baker telegrammed ReVere officials that “ReVere has now completed the most remarkable endurance and test run ever attempted.” The 16,234 miles logged during the 3 month cruise were impressive, but they didn’t do much for the company. ReVere rebodied the Baker car, thus missing out on a golden marketing opportunity. As of 2007 only five ReVeres are known to exist.

The ReVere factory in Logansport, IN

September 10, 1950 – A new diesel speed record

Jimmy Jackson drove his #61 Cummins Diesel Special to a new diesel land speed record of 165.23 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on this day in 1950.

Jackson at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his Cummins Special in 1950.

Nicknamed the Green Hornet byJackson, the car had a 401ci (6.6L) six-cylinder Cummins JBS 600 truck engine. It was outfitted with supercharger mounted in front of the engine that was coupled directly to the crankshaft. Jackson ran the same car in the 1950 Indianapolis 500, but was forced to drop out after 50 laps due to mechanical issues.

September 8, 1963 – A master engineer passes away

Often regarded as one of the most forward thinking automotive engineers the industry had ever known, Maurice Wilks passed away on this day in 1963. Wilks started his engineering career with Hillman in 1922, spent two years with General Motors in the mid 1920, then returned to Hillman before accepting a position as chief engineer at Rover Company in 1930. His accomplishments at Rover include the introduction of the first gas turbine automobile and he headed development of the Land Rover alongside his brother Spencer. A series of promotion between the end of WWII and 1962 would lead to Wilks being named chairman of Rover, a position he held at the time of his death.

Rover gas turbine powered car developed by Wilks.
By Oxyman – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4303815

“The first prototype had a distinctive feature — the steering wheel was mounted in the middle of the vehicle. It hence became known as the “centre steer”. It was built on a Jeep chassis and used the engine and gearbox out of a Rover P3 saloon car. The bodywork was handmade out of an aluminium/magnesium alloy called Birmabright,, to save on steel, which was closely rationed. The choice of colour was dictated by military surplus supplies of aircraft cockpit paint, so early vehicles only came in various shades of light green. The first pre-production Land Rovers were being developed in late 1947 by a team led by engineer Arthur Goddard,” excerpt from Wikipedia entry about the development of the Land Rover.

Maurice Wilks
By Land Rover MENA – Land Rover Celebrates 65 Years Of Technology & Innovation, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32376440

September 3, 1875 – Ferdinand Porsche is born

Ferdinand Porsche, International Motorsports Hall of Fame member and Car Engineer of the 20th Century, was born on this day in 1875 in current day Czech Republic. Aside from founding Porsche, this is the man responsible for some of the world’s most beloved and distinguished automobiles. His first automotive creation, an electric-gas hybrid vehicle known as the Lohner-Porsche Mixte, debuted in 1898. It was the first hybrid vehicle to use these two power sources and it was manufactured from 1900 to 1905. In 1902 Porsche was drafted into military service where he served as chauffeur to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the crown prince of Austria whose assassination would ignite WWI a decade later.

After his service he spent 25 years working in the automobile industry, including as the chief designer at Austro-Daimler. He designed his last car for Mercedes in 1927, resulting in the 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK. He would go on to found Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH (Porsche) in 1931 to provide automobile consulting services for design and engineering of bodies, chassis and engines. The company did not build any vehicles under the name of Porsche. The first project the company obtained was designing an engine for a new Wanderer automobile.

At the Berlin Auto Show of 1933 the relatively new Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, announced he would put Germany on wheels. He announced two plans to help do so, the first would be to build a people’s car, the second was to develop a state sponsored racing program. Porsche would have a massive role in both of these projects. In June 1934 Porsche received the contract to build the people’s car, which of course led to the production of the Volkswagen Type 1 — Beetle. Porsche participated in the second plan by consulting for Mercedes and Auto Union to develop race cars, as both of these companies were to receive 250,000 Reichsmark per year from the German government to assist with racing development.

In 1939 Porsche built the Type 64, which is the precursor to the Porsche 356. It is considered by many to be the first car of what was to become the Porsche company as it is known today. The Type 64 used many of the same parts as the Beetle. After the war, in which Porsche designed tanks and tank destroyers, he was arrested for war crimes and held in prison for 20 months. During this time, with his father’s blessing, Ferry Porsche built the 356/1, the first car to definitively carry the Porsche badge. This prototype vehicle would become the 356 that was road certified for production in 1948.

Image Credits:

Ferdinand Porsche by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2005-1017-525 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 

The Lohner-Porsche Mixte in 1900

1939 German Press Ball in which Porsche stands with the Volkswagen by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E01426 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, 

The 1939 Type 64 CC BY-SA 2.0 de