Duryea AutomobilesIn 1889, Illinois natives Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea came to the Springfield area. Charles became interested in developing a horseless buggy, and invited his brother, Frank, a toolmaker at Chicopee's Ames Manufacturing Company, to join the project in 1892. When Charles moved to Illinois in 1893, Frank continued working on the car.
After making many revisions to the initial design, Frank finally tested the car on Springfield's streets in September of 1893. After two years of fine-tuning and retooling, Frank had created a car that was reliable enough to entice investors.
In 1895, J. Frank Duryea won the first American Automobile Race in Chicago. That same year, the brothers mustered up enough financial support to organize the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the first American corporation founded specifically for the mass production of automobiles. Their 1896 production of thirteen Duryea Motor Wagons marked the beginning of the American automobile industry. Despite well-publicized appearances of the Duryea car in automobile races and contests, early sales were sporadic.
In 1898, Frank and Charles sold their interest in the company, and soon afterwards, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company was sold to the National Motor Carriage Company. In 1901, Frank contracted with J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company in Chicopee for the manufacture of automobiles. In 1904, the Stevens-Duryea Company was formed, manufacturing the Stevens-Duryea automobile in factories in Chicopee and East Springfield. By the time the company had closed in 1915, Stevens-Duryea had produced around 14,000 automobiles. In 1919, the company was reestablished without either of the Duryea brothers, but by 1925, it had ceased operations.
|Below are but a few of the products of Charles Duryea's fertile mind, and with the exception of the Gem, all were built in, Peoria, Illinois, 1898-1900. He was indeed adroit with the obviously eager local press. Beginning in 1898, Peoria newspaper coverage was prolific, as Charles Duryea kept the media informed about orders, Duryeas shipped, and new developments.|
Shown at left is
probably the first of three Duryea Peoria prototypes. According to Charles
it is the only one he fit for a trailer. It was shipped to California, with
one of the Peoria Heights built Duryeas. The trailer concept, referred to as
a four or six passenger, was doomed from the beginning. Dust and fumes made
it impractical. Was this an ancestor of the first Airstream?
Print: Elmer M. King
At left is the Duryea
delivery, "his third Peoria job," as described by Charles Duryea. But, he
also described it as "the second of this design." In a letter to a
newspaper, he also refers to it as the second Duryea Peoria vehicle. This
photo matches a photo cut shown in The Horseless Age, June 5, 1899.
The Duryea is unfinished, as it lacks a crank hole on the side. The engine
mounts under the seat, with the crank running parallel to the rear, exposed
axle. This photo was taken probably no later than June 1, 1899, but after a
May 15, 1899, Duryea Mfg. Co,. catalog was printed. It is one of the three
built behind the Duryea home.
Photo: Peoria Public Library
This is the same photo as above, with
the exception of the lettering, and the absence of a crack running 20
degrees from horizontal, across the lower half of the plate.
The house in the background
appears in several other photos of Duryea vehicles. The Duryea exhibited at
the Peoria Public Library, began life as this delivery, sans lettering.
Photo: Peoria Public Library
Is this the same delivery as shown
above? Though no printed evidence is known, it does match the general
dimensions. The photo could have been taken in several locations. Peoria,
Peoria Heights, Reading, Glenside, Providence, etc.
Photo: L. Scott Bailey
The photo at the left
was probably taken in the New York Museum of Science & Industry, c.1930. A
photo of Charles Duryea seated in the Duryea, at the same location, exists.
The newly opened Museum was located in the NY Daily News building. Later, it
moved to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where it remained until closing its doors in
late 1949. Legendary collector, Henry Austin Clark, Jr., purchased the
Duryea from the defunct Museum.
Photo L. Scott Bailey
At the left, is a
photo of the Duryea, before restoration commenced. Stanley Wilkinson, of
Feasterville, PA, a professional restorer, performed the monumental task.
During restoration, the Duryea, now in a Trap configuration, was owned by L.
Scott Bailey, founder of Automobile Quarterly. Mr. Bailey purchased the
Duryea from collector, Henry Austin Clark, Jr.
Photo L. Scott Bailey
At left is the oldest
known, surviving, Peoria Duryea, and the third oldest of all Duryeas. It was
finished originally as a delivery, as shown above. Charles Duryea has
described it as both his "third Peoria job," and his second built Peoria
vehicle, and one of three prototypes built in the workshop behind the
Duryea's family home. Peoria newspaper stories tell of its use, beginning in
early July 1899. In it's present restored state, it is exhibited at the
Peoria Public Library, Peoria, Illinois.
Photo L. Scott Bailey
|This drawing appeared in an 1899 Peoria newspaper. Known as the Davidson gun carriage, the Duryea was ordered by, and built for, Major Royal Davidson of the Northwestern Military Academy, Highland Park, IL.|
Peoria artist, the late Elmer King, created with his brush, colorful images
that speak to the viewer. This print shows a slice of Peoria's history, from
a century ago. The print at the left is the Davidson Duryea gun carriage, in
the original 3-wheel configuration.
Print: Elmer M. King
In late, June 1900,
the gun carriage was driven from Highland Park, to Peoria Heights, Illinois.
The reported purpose was to make modifications in preparation for it's trip
from Highland Park, to Washington, DC. Shredded tires forced cancellation of
the trip in Indiana. The gun carriage was returned to Highland Park via
Print: Elmer M. King
This is one of two
Peoria/Peoria Heights built Duryeas, known to exist. This one appears to be
a production model, thus produced in Peoria Heights, by the Peoria Rubber &
Mfg. Co. It is in the collection of the
Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan.
Material - Herman Minges
Courtesy Antique Automobile
The Duryea Gem
cyclecar, shown at left, is thought to be Charles Duryea's last hurrah. Pick
a year between 1913 and 1920, and literature exists stating it was made
during that year. Three are known to exist. At the time of the purchase of
the Duryea Trap, L. Scott Bailey gave one to the people of Central Illinois.
It is exhibited at the Wheels 'O Time Museum, Dunlap, IL.
Photo: L. Scott Bailey
About The Man
In 1890, the Rouse Duryea Cycle
Co., of Peoria, was incorporated. Harry Rouse was the major investor.
BothCharles & younger brother, J. Frank Duryea, were living in the
Springfield, MA, area, at that time. Charles contracted to have his bicycles
built, there. The brothers collaborated to begin building their first
automobile, converting a buggy to suit their needs. In the beginning, Frank
was paid by Charles.
The manfacturing of the Duryea bicycle was called back to Central Illinois and the Rouse-Hazard plant, also a manufacurer of bicycles. September 1892, Charles Duryea and family moved to Central Illinois. In 1893, they moved into their home on Peoria's Barker Ave.
The move left Frank Duryea alone in Springfield, to finish the Duryea. September 21, 1893, Frank first drove the Duryea on the streets of the city. The event was noted in local newspapers. Driven little, more than two decades later, it was given to the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
Soon after, Frank designed a second Duryea. This one was built from the ground up as an automobile, rather than a converted carriage. When Frank sent the drawings to Charles in Peoria, Charles patented them in his own name. This one act underscored the beginning of more than a century of dissension between the two families.
This second Duryea, to be known as the Chicago car, was entered in an early November 1895 race, to be held in Chicago. Only the Duryea and a Mueller-Benz from Decatur, IL, showed. The official race was postponed until Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1895. A demonstration run was made by the two entrants, with the Mueller-Benz, winning.
The day prior to Thanksgiving, Chicago and the Midwest was blanketed by a blizzard. Only the Duryea, the Mueller-Benz, and four other entries made it to the starting line. The vehicles were sent off at timed intervals, with the Duryea leaving first. The Duryea, despite problems and emergency repairs, prevailed, finishing in first place. Its share of the purse, $2,000.00, added to the mountain of prestige and publicity. In the mid 1920s, Charles reportedly persuaded the Chicago Historical Society to accept the skeletonized Duryea, only to find it had been scrapped.
September 1895, the Duryea Motor Wagon Co., of Springfield MA, was incorporated. As this was the first U.S. automobile company and the first to have any production, the brothers Duryea are considered, "Fathers of the American Automobile Industry." Thirteen 1896 Duryeas were produced. One survives at the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn, MI.
January 1896, Charles Duryea arranged for the Chicago car to be shipped to Peoria. He hoped to create a company in Peoria, to manufacture Duryeas on a royaly basis, for the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. That effort failed, though a name, the Duryea Mfg. Co., was selected.
Memorial Day, 1896, Frank drove one of the thirteen 1896 models, to victory in the Cosmopolitan Race, in New York City. Charles drove one to second place. This event is considered the second auto race in the USA. A third Duryea and its driver, were involved in the first recorded auto accident. The driver was a guest of the city for a short time.
September 30, 1896, Charles obtained a $2.00 building permit to build a two story wood structure behind the Duryea, Barker Ave,, home. The three "prototype" or "test" models were built in it. The building was razed in 1934.
November 1896, Charles and family moved to New Jersey and Charles went to work for the Canda Co., in Carteret.
November 1896, Frank, driving one of the 1896 models, wins the first London to Brighton, England, race. He was awarded a medal for "Prompt Arrival." The press in England failed to recognize his victory. He was seventy minutes more "prompt," than second place. The medal is in the Smithsonian Institution.
August 1897, Charles' work for the Canda Co., was terminated.
September 1897, Charles and family return to Peoria, and their waiting, Barker Ave., home. That signaled a renewed effort to build Duryeas in Peoria. The Duryea Mfg. Co., was incorporated, February 1898.
After Peoria, 1900-1938
February 1900, Charles went
to, Reading PA. There, he continued to build three cylinder automobiles.
Monroe Seiberling, under the name, Consolidated Motor Vehicle Co.,
continued a struggling effort to build automobiles in, Peoria Heights. In
1901, Seiberling sold out. Peoria papers report shipment of only two
automobles by Consolidated Motor Vehicle Co., but more could have been
After Reading, 1911-1913, Charles built automobiles in, Saginaw, MI.
1914, Charles moved to Philadelphia PA. From there, he continued his quest to build automobiles. Manufacturing occurred in both Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE. Three known vehicles from this period, named the Gem, and generically called cycle-cars, survive. One of those three, restored and running, is now at the Wheels 'O Time Museum, Peoria IL. It was a gift to the people of, Central Illinois, from L. Scott Bailey.
Charles Duryea died in Philadelphia, PA., September 28, 1938.
Whoa and Woe to the
In 1898, Charles' neighbors did not appreciate him using the street in
front of their homes, On Peoria's Barker Ave., as a test track, along with
the accompanying noise and smell. The citizens complained to the city.
Officials called on Charles. He placated them with news he would be moving
his work to Seiberling's Prospect Heights plant. That gained Charles
almost a year.
In 1899, neighbors again made their feelings known. The City Council turned the matter over to the proper authority. By this time, perhaps Charles knew his time is Peoria was limited. Its not known how much activity may have taken place at the Barker Ave. location. Charles mused to a reporter, wondering if the neighbors realized how strong the odors were from the piles of their horses' by product was, in the hot Summer sun.
The "prototypes'" numbering
three, came to life in the unsophisticated structure. The wooden
laboratory provided space for his draftsman, as well. A Duryea engined
launch was put to use, though its not known where it was built, or who
actually owned it. Charles also had plans to build a gasoline engine
powered pacer, for bicycle racing, a sport popular in Peoria and the
Nation. It would take two men to operate, it. There is no known evidence
to indicate its fruition in Peoria. What else may have been on the
The barn was razed in the Fall of 1934.
A Farmer's relic
|March 1995, this author received a phone call from an auctioneer, representing the estate of a farmer, located a few miles from Peoria. He explained what was thought to be a Duryea three cylinder engine, mounted on a wood base, and used as a portable power unit. A few days later, the son of the deceased farmer appeared, with an engine in the back of his pickup. Sure enough, it was a three cylinder Duryea engine. The son stated it was pulled out of a Duryea, about 1930. He had no memory of what happened to the chassis.|
The research began in
late 1990, to prove or disprove the Peoria provenance of the Duryea
being purchased from Scott Bailey and now exhibited at the Peoria
Public Library. Scott Bailey said; .."more time will be spent
proving what is wrong than what is right." He knows of what he
In the 1920s, Charles Duryea produced what was reportedly a copy of his graduation thesis from Gittings Institute, La Harpe, IL, titled, "Rapid Transit." He said it was printed in the town's newpaper. The Illinois State Library has microfilm for most of the newspapers printed in Illinois. The La Harper is no exception. The thesis title the La Harper printed is," Bicycles." None of the graduating class' thesis were printed in the paper.
Among the most asked
Duryea questions, are ones relating to genealogy. The following
family name and the paternal ancestral line of Charles E. Duryea, beginning with Joost Durie. Joost
arrived on our shore, about 1675. He was the son of Simon Durie. Joost came from Mannheim, Germany,
where the family had gone from the Bergundy area of France. He married Magdelein LeFevre,
February 28, 1672, in Mannheim. He settled near, Bushwick, Long Island.
Joost Durie and wife Magdelein
Charles Durie and wife Cornelia
Charles Duryea and wife Antje
John Duryea and wife Margaret
Wesley Duryea and wife Elizabeth
George Washington Duryea
Charles Edgar Duryea and wife Rachel
Charles born December 15, 1861, died September 28, 1938
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