Charles Duryea

Charles Duryea

Charles Duryea (left) with J.Frank Duryea
Born December 15, 1861
Canton, Illinois
Died September 28, 1938
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nationality United States

Charles Edgar Duryea (December 15, 1861 – September 28, 1938) was the engineer of the first-ever working American gasoline-powered car. He was born near Canton, Illinois, the son of George Washington Duryea and Louisa Melvina Turner and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but spent most of his life working in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was in Springfield that Charles and his brother, Frank, produced and road-tested America's first gasoline-powered car. [1]

1894 Duryea Automobile at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum



Charles Duryea and his brother Frank (1869–1967) were initially bicycle makers in Washington, D.C., but later became world-renowned as the first American gasoline-powered car manufacturers, headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts. Generally speaking, Charles engineered the automobiles, while Frank built tested and raced them.

Tests of the first, gasoline-powered automobile: September 20 and November 10, 1893

On September 20, 1893, the Duryea Brothers road-tested the first-ever, working American gasoline-powered automobile in a portion of Springfield, Massachusetts that is now located in the City of Chicopee, Massachusetts. The Duryea's "motor wagon" was a used horse drawn buggy that the brothers had purchased for $70 and into which they had installed a 4 HP, single cylinder gasoline engine. The car (buggy) had a friction transmission, spray carburetor and low tension ignition. [2] Frank Duryea test drove it again on November 10 -- this time in a prominent location: past their garage at 47 Taylor Street in Springfield. The next day it was reported by The Republican newspaper with great fanfare.

This particular car was put into storage in 1894 and stayed there until 1920, when it was rescued by Inglis M. Uppercu and presented to the United States National Museum. [3]

The Duryea Motor Wagon Company

After Frank Duryea won the America's first car race on November 28, 1895 in Chicago, demand grew for the Duryea Motor Wagon. In 1896, the Duryea Brothers produced 13 cars by hand – in their garage at 47 Taylor Street – and thus Duryea became the first-ever commercially produced vehicle, and also the largest automobile factory in the United States. [4] For the history of the company and its cars, see Duryea Motor Wagon Company.[5]

Charles Duryea sought out investors and buyers while his brother, Frank Duryea, primarily handled the mechanical side of the business.[6] The previous year, their vehicle, driven by brother Frank, had won a race in Evanston, Illinois, against cars mostly made in Germany.

A Duryea car was involved in the world's first known auto accident.[7] New York City motorist Henry Wells hit a bicyclist with his new Duryea. The rider suffered a broken leg, Wells spent a night in jail and the nation's first traffic accident was recorded. [8] Due to low production and extraordinarily pricey cars, e.g. in 1913, George Vanderbilt purchased and drove a Stevens-Duryea, but was one of few people in the United States who could afford one. His 1913 Duryea is Vanderbilt's only original car kept at his Biltmore Estate. [9] Duryea ceased manufacturing during the 1920s; however; the name Duryea is synonymous with America's first gasoline-powered car.[5]

Charles Duryea died in Philadelphia in 1938.



“Duryeas First but It Didn’t Last”, Automotive News. News Pg. 3. February 26, 1996. May, George W. Charles E. Duryea, Automaker, (1973).

Berkbile, Don. The 1893 Duryea Automobile, (1964).

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