October 3, 1912 – First win for Duesenberg

duesenberg history was made at the 1912 PBR trophy race
Starting grid for 1912 American Grand Prize race, held in Milwaukee

Generally speaking, drinking alcohol and driving don’t go together, unless you’re an observer of a race. Hopefully spectators were the only ones with a beer in hand on this day in 1912 when the Pabst Blue Ribbon Trophy race was held in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a short drive from Milwaukee, where PBR was established. It was at this race that a vehicle equipped with a Duesenberg engine won a professional race for the first time. While it’s only speculation, it’s believed the Duesenberg brothers, Frederick and August, celebrated by shotgunning tall cans of PBR, marking a proud moment in Duesenberg history.

1908 photo of Montague Roberts (left) with brother Mortimer Roberts, who won the 1912 PBR Trophy race in a Mason race car powered by a Duesenberg engine.

After immigrating from Germany to Iowa in the late 19th century, the Duesenberg brothers became enthralled with motor car racing. They began their high speed careers working with Mason Racing Cars, based in Iowa, between 1906 and 1913. While there the brothers designed the engine that would be fitted to the race car that driver Mortimer Roberts won the 220 mile PBR Trophy race.

The Duesenberg brothers
August and Fred Duesenberg circa 1925

Duesenberg history: race cars to luxury

In 1913 the brothers opened their own plant to produce whole race cars in St. Paul, Minnesota. They didn’t officially establish Duesenberg Motors Company until 1920. They achieved great success in racing in the early 1920s, leading to a 1926 they meeting with E.L. Cord, who asked to purchase their company. They etched a deal. The new company, renamed Duesenberg, Inc., with Fred as a VP and August overseeing racing development, flourished. The introduction of the Model J in 1928 ushered the company into a new era of luxury auto making. 

Model J protytpe

By 1929 Duesenbergs sold for as much as $20,000. This at a time when a brand new Ford could be had for around $500. When the Great Depression hit, the Cord Corporation began to crumble, resulting in Duesenberg ending operations in 1937. However, two final cars left the factory in 1940, essentially pieced together from left over parts.

Duesenberg Model J owned by J.J. Mitchel, founder of United Airlines

Despite numerous attempts to revive Duesenberg, including a run of about 200 reproduction Model Js with Ford drivetrains built between 1978 and 2000, the company name only lives on as a synonym for luxury. Original Duesenbergs regularly sell for multi-millions. Of the 481 Model Js built between 1928 and 1937, 378 are known to survive, the rest are supposdely Duesenberg history. Perhaps, there are some barn find Duesenbergs left to be found, like these other missing cars worth millions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The best way to support This Day in Automotive History is to become a monthly subscriber on Facebook.

Subscriber benefits include:

  • Most importantly, you’re supporting great content about Automotive History
  • Early access to content on Facebook
  • Discounts on our store
  • Special live videos

If you learned something today, please buy me a beer!

No payment method connected. Contact seller.


This Day in Automotive History - the book!

This Day In Automotive History

By Brian Corey

This book tells fascinating tales, bringing individual days to life with short stories, photographs and illustrations.

This Day in Automotive History

This Day in Automotive History is a transportation history, car history and general automotive history website dedicated to providing informative and entertaining content.

We encourage you to share our page and connect with us on Facebook or sign up for our automotive history newsletter. If you’d like your car featured, reach out to us!


Connect with us on Facebook or sign up for our automotive history newsletter to keep in touch.

If you learned something today, please buy me a beer!


Sign up for our automotive history newsletter to keep in touch.