Today in History – November 27, 1895 – The first gasoline-powered automobile race in the United States. The Duryea brothers – Charles and Frank – created their first gasoline-powered “horseless-carriage” in 1893. The Duryeas were bicycle mechanics who built their first car in a workshop located in a building in downtown Springfield, MA. in September 1893. It was built around a one-cylinder, gasoline engine and a three-speed transmission mounted on a used horse carriage, hitting a stop speed of 7.5 mph. In 1894, Frank developed a second car with a more powerful two-cylinder engine that he drove in America’s first automobile race on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1895 and ran a 54-mile course from down-town Chicago to Evanston, Il and back. Taking a little over 10 hours, Frank Duryea was the first to cross the finish line, averaging 7.3 miles per hour and winning a prize of $2,000 ($49,500 in today’s money).”
A few years later the first U.S. automobile show opened in Madison Square Graden, NYC. (See November 3 blog). Henry Ford’s development of mass production techniques in the automotive industry in 1913 made the automobile affordable to the general population.
The National Academy of Engineering named the automobile as the 2nd greatest invention of the twentieth century. Through continuous improvement and the ingenious application of new technology, the automobile reconfirmed and updated its status as a triumph of engineering throughout the 20th century.
The challenge today is to make automobiles and their impact on the environment sustainable for future generations. Hybrids and automobiles using alternate fuels such as solar, biofuels or hydrogen are promising directions for research and development. The solar car, human powered vehicle and supermileage vehicle engineering student competitions at universities today help students develop integrative design and team skills, as well as provide engaging examples for the next generation of engineering students.
Many Americans will celebrate today as “Thanksgiving Day”. In 1789, the first national Thanksgiving in the United States was proclaimed by President George Washington. The holiday that Americans celebrate annually on the last Thursday in November commemorates an event on the Virginia Berkeley Plantation on December 4, 1621. Although saved by the charity of the local Native Americans who supplied much of the food for this “thanksgiving” event, the clash of Native and European cultures was to lead to bloodshed on all sides. The “Indian Massacre of 1622″ led to the abandonment of the Berkeley settlement as surviving colonists withdrew to Jamestown and more secure settlements. Future thanksgiving events were tainted by scores of deaths of Native Americans from smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans. It is no wonder that Native American engineers are extremely rare; the numbers are low in the general population and the hard technology approaches are at odds with their more organic view of human’s role in nature. AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) and ACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) are professional societies dedicated to encouraging Native American and Chicano/Latino students to pursue education in science and engineering, develop leadership skills, and prepare for professional and teaching careers at all levels. For more educational information see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on Native American and Hispanic engineers and scientists.