Project Description

1903 Stevens-Duryea Runabout

Brothers J. Frank and Charles Duryea were the first to build a successful gasoline-powered car in 1893. To prove their new invention could work, they entered the first auto race in America, which was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald on Thanksgiving Day, 1895. Six vehicles competed but none could come close to matching the performance of driver Frank Duryea who covered the 54 mile course in ten hours, 23 minutes.

Newspapers across the country announced the feat and predicted a bright future for the horseless carriage. Full of enthusiasm following the race, the Duryea brothers started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, building and selling thirteen of their motor wagons in their first year of business in 1896.

Note that there is no starting crank for the car in the usual front-end location. Sales literature touted that “it starts from the seat” by means of a short crank attached to the tiller steering post. Another unusual feature of this car is that the driver sits in the back seat. Passengers sat ahead of the driver, in a special fold-down seat.

  • MANUFACTURER: J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company, Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts (1901-1906)

  • PRICE NEW: $1,300

  • AVERAGE ANNUAL INCOME 1903: $489

  • PRICE TO BUY 2020: $37,997
  • ENGINE: Horizontally-opposed longitudinally-mounted 2-cylinder configuration, 160 cu. in./2.6 l.
  • HORSEPOWER: 7

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In our current exhibit, From Carriage to Classic: How Automobiles Transformed America, we present the origin story of the American automobile through 23 cars from Heritage’s permanent collection of antique and classic automobiles. Come along for a ride from the late 1800s to the 1960s and watch the car evolve from a horseless carriage to a streamlined symbol of freedom and independence.

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