05 May

Flashback: The Melton Auto Museum opened in Norwalk, Connecticut on July 24, 1948


By Margo Melton Nutt
Reprinted from February 11, 2011

Norwich, VT – Although I have talked some in previous posts about the James Melton Autorama in Florida, I haven’t said much about its precursor, the Melton Museum in Norwalk Connecticut (1948-53). So here goes:

Back in the summer of 1941, the State of Connecticut had appropriated funds to build a museum for my father’s cars. But the onset of World War II put the project on hold. After the war the agreement still did not come to fruition. As he put it in a letter to fellow Veteran Motor Car Club members in 1947:

“As you may have seen by the papers, I have withdrawn my offer of a museum collection to the State of Connecticut. The first appropriation was made in 1941, the enlarged appropriation in 1945, and the thing is still only on paper…The combination of dilly-dallying techniques, small brother groups crying over locations, appointment of an antique auto curator—repeat curator!—and the shifting sands of politics—of which I want no part—finally made me decide that it would be in the best interests of my collection and the antique automobile movement as a whole, to cut out of all that complicated and unpleasant situation…I shall create a museum of which we can all be proud—and where we won’t wake up some morning to find some Politico’s Aunt Tillie’s 1928 Model A Ford where a Mercer Raceabout ought to be.”

Rather than donating his collection to the State in return for the building, he continued to own the cars—and to add to their number until he had close to a hundred. He formed a corporation, The Melton Museum, Inc., and acquired a 10,000 square foot building on an eight-acre site on Route 7 in Norwalk, Connecticut, half a mile from the Merritt Parkway (where Wal-Mart is today). To that he added another 10,000 square foot building, incorporating an existing well-known restaurant, called the Stirrup Cup. On top of the building with the sign saying The Melton Museum, he put brightly painted cutouts of some of the cars represented in the collection; out front he placed a 1902 trolley car. He sincerely believed that everyone was as interested in the history of the automobile as he was. He felt that preserving the cars was only half the story, they should be shown to the public as examples of man’s ingenuity and as the beautiful antiques they were.

On July 24, 1948, the 20,000 square foot Melton Museum of Antique Automobiles opened in Norwalk, with fifty-five cars, antique bicycles, auto accessories, toy trains and music boxes. Opening day began with a parade of antique autos, driven by his confreres from the Veteran Motor Car Club, and was attended by celebrities such as Clare Booth Luce, Lawrence Tibbett and Connecticut Governor Grover Whelan. Twelve hundred paying customers came the first day, sixteen hundred the second. Little did many of the visitors know what a huge, last-minute effort had gone into readying the exhibition for opening day? Firestone, for instance, had agreed to equip all the cars with their new “non-skid” tires—the words formed the tread design. The tires had been flown in by air freight from Akron, Ohio the day before the museum opened, and Firestone men had worked until 2 A.M. to mount them all. For months my mother had been a willing helper in preparing the museum, haunting local antiques stores in search of the right accouterments to accompany the displays, and raiding friends’ and relatives’ attics for old-fashioned costumes for the mannequins to wear. She also oversaw many museum-related details on the home front while her husband was on tour with the Metropolitan Opera that spring.

Their old friend, former Ziegfeld designer, John Harkrider, designed the exhibits. The entrance hall was decorated with large photos of my father’s various old car exploits with other celebrities: the 1937 Easter Parade of antique autos down Fifth Avenue with fellow singers Lanny Ross and Jessica Dragonette as passengers; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy riding in one of the cars my father took to Hollywood in 1944; and a meeting with Henry Ford Sr. in Dearborn, Michigan. The cashier’s office was in a 1912 Renault Hansom Cab, the car’s radiator having been converted to a counter for selling tickets. (Admission to the museum was 60 cents.) One exhibit room had a parade of vehicles filled with cap-and-duster clad mannequins intended to look as if they were driving down a country road. Another room had eight racing cars displayed in an octagonal pattern; one of the cars was a 1911 Mercedes which was accompanied by a huge photographic blowup of Ralph DePalma driving that very car in the 1911 Vanderbilt Cup Race. In yet another room, the sign in front of the 1910 White Touring Car explained the origins of the collection, “The ambition of a small boy to own a car like this is what started the whole thing.”

He hired a retired Norwalk policeman—Officer Phillip O’Grady—as the security guard. Dressed like a turn of the century Keystone Kop, O’Grady was straight out of central casting, and played his part to the hilt. Among the summer help my father hired was Joe Ryan, still only in high school, to polish brass and run errands. Over fifty years later, among the highlights Ryan recalled was a trip to Canada to pick up a 1924 Rolls Royce that Lady Eaton had donated to the museum. “Between being held up at the border for two days because Customs didn’t accept the paperwork I carried, (they had to verify it with both Lady Eaton and your father), and the fact the headlights were so dim I could only drive in daylight, it took me five days to get the car back to Norwalk.” His job at the Melton Museum started Ryan’s lifelong love of automobiles that evolved into his career as sales manager of a Mercedes Benz agency.

The oldest car in the Melton Museum was 1893 custom steam stage coach, which looked rather like a horse-drawn carriage with engines added front and rear. The most modern car in the museum was a 1934 custom-built Detroit Electric. Other unusual pieces in the collection were aforementioned 1911 Mercedes of Vanderbilt Cup Race fame, a 1900 Rockwell Hansom Cab—the first New York City taxi— and a 12-passenger Stanley Steamer Mountain Wagon circa 1915, formerly used in Yellowstone National Park for sightseeing tours.

Margo Melton Nutt’s memoirs of her father “James Melton: The Tenor of His Times” is available at Amazon.com

James Melton (left) at the Hershey Meet in 1958 beside a 1910 Thomas Flyer

James Melton (left) at the Hershey Meet in 1958 beside a 1910 Thomas Flyer

James Melton driving his 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (Chassis No. 60565)

James Melton driving his 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (Chassis No. 60565)


21 Apr

Fiberglass for First Plastic Sports Car Developed in Connecticut 65 Years Ago

Images courtesy Geoff Hacker

Images courtesy Geoff Hacker

Naugatuck, CT – Bill Tritt and his company Glasspar were growing in the fiberglass boat business by leaps and bounds, and while the bulk of their business was always boats and ships, in late 1949 he had started working with Ken Brooks to produce a fiberglass sports car body. By early 1950, Bill was looking to expand and take on new business, and in that year Tritt brought on investors that would allow his company to grow.

Things were looking good for Glasspar, and Tritt wanted to add sports car bodies to Glasspar’s product list, but there was a problem. Lots of companies needed supplies, but none more so than the U.S. government. The summer of 1950, when Glasspar began its expansion plans, was also the same time that the Korean War started (Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950), and this war continued through the summer of 1953.

Resources were in scant supply, and everyone wanted what was available. It was in that setting that Tritt pressed forward to find more supplies – polyester resin and fiberglass mat – in Southern California. At every corner he turned, supplies were being dedicated to the war effort. Glasspar’s dreams of expanding were suddenly in a precarious position.

In 2000, Daniel Spurr interviewed Bill Tritt about this very moment in time for his book Heart of Glass, a terrific story on the birth of the fiberglass industry in postwar America and how it revolutionized the boat industry. Here’s what Tritt had to say:

“At this critical point in Glasspar’s growth, the story becomes one of great serendipity and plain luck. The Korean War dealt us a near mortal blow. We suddenly were unable to obtain polyester resin because it was all going to aircraft and other military products. Our purchasing history was laughable, as was I in my fruitless search for suppliers.”

“Then, strictly by chance, I saw a notice of the opening of a new chemical company in a warehouse in South Los Angeles. I had never heard of the company, Naugatuck Chemical, although it turned out to be a division of U.S. Rubber. I didn’t know what the warehouse was to house, but with nothing building in the shop, on a nice day, I borrowed the Boxer from Ken Brooks and drove to the warehouse.”

“It was large and appeared empty, but I went inside and found a little office. In the office was a personable young man named Bud Crawford, who informed me that the warehouse primarily handled shipments of polyester resin from Connecticut, headed then to the big boys.”

“He was most sympathetic to our problems, but he had no way to divert any of the resin without an order from the War Department. We concluded there was no way I could get even a drum of our lifeblood’s chemical equivalent from Naugatuck. We walked out to the loading dock to bid farewell and, when Crawford saw the Boxer, he asked, “Hey, what’s that?”

“Less than twenty-four hours later, Earl Ebers, head of Naugatuck, a chemist and devoted proponent of Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic, arrived in California, came to the (Glasspar) plant, and committed Naugatuck Chemical to sending us an immediate (air freight) supply of resin (trade name Vibrin).”

This historic moment was captured by more than one person. Back in 1951, Bert McNomee was in the operations area of the public relations department for Naugatuck Chemical. From 1968 to 1976, Bert was the director of public relations for U.S. Rubber, but during 1951, he was at ground zero of what was about to happen with Glasspar and fiberglass sports cars.

Bert reviewed his memory of these early years back in Shark Quarterly, a magazine about Corvette history, in the summer of 1997. Here’s what Bert had to share:

“In 1950, Bill Tritt had designed and Glasspar built a custom body to update a friend’s wife’s jeep chassis (note: see previous story on Glasspar for correct reference to a 1940s Willys). This work caught the attention of our West Coast man, Bud Crawford, and he told Mr. Ebers about it. When he heard about Tritt’s work he decided we would go out there.”

“We arrived on a Saturday and, I remember, checked into a little known place called the Mayfair Hotel. Then on Monday, Bill Tritt took us out to Costa Mesa to see this car. I thought, “Holy Mackerel look at this car!” It looked like an early Jaguar. They asked me if I wanted to take a ride in it. I surely did. So off we went. It was amazing; it cornered well, and with the light body it was peppy.”

“Mr. Ebers asked me, “So Bert, what do you think?” I said that I thought we had a chance to get it into LIFE Magazine, like he wanted. But first we need some good pictures of the car. Now a lot of things happened pretty much at the same time. My job was to get busy on the press coverage.”

“For my part, I hired Tom King of the Blackstar Association, locally, to take some pictures. These were just the preliminary photos so I could get some interest going at LIFE Magazine. When we got back to New York, I called Bill Payne of the “new products” section at LIFE and showed him these preliminary photos.”

“Bill was also a car buff so he was quite interested in the idea of a fiberglass car for his section. We met for lunch with Earl Ebers and talked about how the car body could be presented to make a really interesting story.”


“We had to make it clear, pictorially; that this was a car body that was different from any other car body you had ever seen. I told him that before the car was painted, the body was actually translucent. That did it. It lit up all kinds of ideas in Bill’s mind. He started talking about how we could lower the body over the car and light it from underneath. The ideas came together and he sold the story to his editors.”


At this time, Earl Ebers went up to Naugatuck to meet with George Vila, who was the General Sales Manager, and John Coe, who was the Vice President. They both agreed that Naugatuck Chemical would subsidize the construction of four prototype cars, which was the amount Tritt wanted to justify setting up the bucks and molds.

They also agreed to send Earle out to Costa Mesa to work on the first four models and to oversee the operation. And so Glasspar and Naugatuck were joined at the hip in terms or making fiberglass sports cars a reality, and no small job was laid out in front of them to make this dream a reality. In fact, in just a few short months Bill Tritt would have to:

  • update the plaster buck so a new mold could be produced (changes in the grill design occurred at this step)
  • create a new mold that could stand the rigors of production
  • debut the Brooks Boxer at the Petersen Motorama in November 1951
  • and finish at least one full sports car that Naugatuck had paid for, preferably by the end of 1951

Bill Tritt commented in Heart of Glass about the meeting in late summer as follows:

“We had unbelievable credit and an order for a car to show at Philadelphia Plastics Exhibit in (March) 1952. Life magazine was set to do a feature story; one hundred eighty degrees from a few days before.”

In the fall of 1951, the team from Naugatuck Chemical returned with Life Magazine photographer J. R. Eyerman. During this time, they photographed the Brooks Boxer in action shots for the magazine, captured Bill Tritt working on the plaster buck for the G2 sports car, showed the steps in making a fiberglass body, and more.


In fact, in photographing the sports car body being built, they would be capturing the very first body being built from the production molds. This would become the second Glasspar sports car built – the Alembic I.

In preparation for today’s story, I called Bert McNomee (he’s doing great and has been a constant source of support and information for the history of these times), and asked him about how the name Alembic I came to be for the second sports car built by Glasspar.

Bert reminded me that Naugatuck Chemical was a chemical company first, and in chemistry, Alembic has its origin in equipment involved in the distillation process. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of Alembic is either an apparatus used in distillation or something that refines or transmutes as if by distillation.


And so, with great excitement, enthusiasm, and the backing of a large company, the second Glasspar sports car was born, the Alembic I. Bill Tritt, Glasspar, and Naugatuck Chemical pressed forth, and to the delight of all, Life Magazine published the article in February 1952 and the world of fiberglass sports cars was never the same.

Article Courtesy Hemming’s Daily
Geoff Hacker is a Tampa, Florida-based automotive historian who specializes in tracking down bizarre, off-beat, and undocumented automobiles. His favorites are Fifties American fiberglass-bodied cars, and he shares his research into those cars at ForgottenFiberglass.com.

Glasspar Cars are featured on Ray Evernham’s Americarna episode “Forgotten Fiberglass” on VelocityTV; Check your local listings for date and time.



09 Mar

1st U.S. Auto Show Opened in New York City 115 Years Ago


New York, NY – Of the 4,200 new automobiles sold in the United States at the turn of the century, gasoline powered less than 1,000. On November 3, 1900, America’s first national automobile show opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

An innovative assortment of electric, steam, and “internal explosion” engines powered these horseless carriages. New manufactures like Olds Motor Works of Lansing, Michigan, built models of each kind to compete in the developing market.

The manufacturers presented 160 different vehicles at the first national automobile show. Future leaders of the nation’s greatest transportation industry gave driving and maneuverability demonstrations on a 20-foot-wide track that surrounded the exhibits. A wooden 200-foot ramp tested hill-climbing power.

Automobiles powered by internal combustion engines at the 1900 National Automobile Show were primitive. The most popular models proved to be electric, steam, and gasoline…in that order.

About 48,000 show visitors paid 50¢ each to see the latest automotive technology. Hundreds of “Hansom” cabs built by the Electric Vehicle Company worked well, but heavy lead-acid batteries, muddy roads, and lack of electrical infrastructure confined these early electrics to metropolitan areas. Thomas Edison spent years working on battery power for automobiles, but abandoned the effort.


This ad for the Winton motor carriage – often identified as the first American automobile ad, according to the Henry Ford Museum – appeared in a 1898 issue of Scientific American magazine.

Consumers favored “steamers” over their gasoline-powered competitors. Steam-powered automobiles traced their roots back to 1768, when a French military engineer, Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot, built a self-propelled steam tricycle to move artillery.

By 1900, manufacturers like Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Locomobile (from the words locomotive and automobile), Stanley Motor Carriage Co., Tarrytown, N.Y., and others boasted of their products’ safety and touted the virtues of simple steam power over “complex and sinister” internal combustion engines.

Locomobile produced 750 steamers in 1900, second in sales only to Columbia & Electric Vehicle Co. of Hartford, Conn., but consumers complained of the time required to heat boilers and the necessarily frequent stops for water. Progress in the development of internal combustion engines soon outpaced steam technology.


At the turn of the century, about 8,000 vehicles shared mostly unpaved roads with horses and wagons. Automobiles powered by internal combustion engines at the 1900 National Automobile Show were primitive, noisy and cantankerous. Most were based on Nikolas Otto’s 1876 four-stroke design and ran on a variety of “light spirits” such as stove gas, kerosene, naphtha, lamp oil, benzene, mineral spirits, alcohol, and gasoline.

One early critic complained that the internal combustion engine was, “Noxious, noisy, unreliable, and elephantine. It vibrates so violently as to loosen one’s dentures. The automobile industry will surely burgeon in America, but this motor will not be a factor.”

The critic was wrong. Gasoline, once an unwanted byproduct of kerosene refining, cost only about 15 cents a gallon in 1900 and produced dramatic increases in engine horsepower. Despite the absence of “filling stations,” gasoline was readily available in a market where electric lights were making kerosene obsolete.

The refining industry needed a product to replace kerosene and gasoline was it. In 1901, Olds Motor Works sold 425 models of a gasoline-powered “Curved Dash Runabout” for $650 each. Four years later, when the model was discontinued, almost 19,000 had been sold. America’s consumer preference for gasoline-powered internal combustion engines was thoroughly established.

Source: The American Oil & Gas Historical Society

02 Mar



Jacksonville, FL – Sir Stirling Moss has been named the Honoree of the20th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Sir Stirling was the honoree of the first Amelia Island Concours in 1996 and will again be the honoree in 2015 at the international concours season opener in northeast Florida. Moss is the only person to be honored twice by the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The cars that defined Sir Stirling’s career in 1955, the Mercedes-Benz racing cars that brought him his greatest fame, will serve as the centerpiece of the 20th anniversary Amelia display field
On May 22, 1955 Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson won the punishing Mille Miglia to score Mercedes-Benz’s first victory of the World Sports Car Championship season. The epic 1000mile open road race around the Italian peninsula took Moss nearly ten non-stop hours. The speed record he set 60 years ago still stands. Less than a month later Mercedes’ withdrew from the 24 Hours of Le Mans after an accident involving one of the team’s 300SLRs and an Austin-Healey. Moss and his co-driver, reigning World Champion Juan Fangio, were leading by nearly three laps when the decision to withdraw came from Germany. The retirement cost Moss another career first as the only man to win the Mille Miglia and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same season.

In July 1955 Sir Stirling won his home Grand Prix at Aintree, England in the 300SLR’s stablemate, the Formula 1 Mercedes-Benz W196. It was the first of 16 World Championship F1 victories for Moss. In October, Moss clinched the World Sports Car Championship for Mercedes-Benz winning the Targa Florio racing the same 300SLR that had carried him to victory in the Mille Miglia and the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod, Ireland. Moss and his 300SLR were the common denominator in the 1955 World Sports Car Championship season winning half the races of the six-race World Championship for Mercedes-Benz.

“Sir Stirling set us on our path in 1996,” said Bill Warner, Founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “To have Sir Stirling and his Mercedes-Benz racers from the 1955 double world championship season on the field is a fantasy come true for us. This is absolutely unprecedented. Mercedes-Benz Classic, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum and Sir Stirling have given us all a moment unequaled in motorsport history.” “Sir Stirling’s Mille Miglia, TT and Targa winning 300SSLR will join his W196 Monoposto and the Streamliner he raced and led with at Monza, his last Formula 1 race for Mercedes-Benz,” said Warner. “We’re honored to be able to present this extraordinary collection of Sir Stirling’s Mercedes-Benz World Champions.”

The 2015 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance will be held March 13-15th on the 10th and 18th fairways of The Golf Club of Amelia Island at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. The show’s Foundation has donated over $2.5 million to Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, Inc. and other charities on Florida’s First Coast since its inception in 1996. In 2013 the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance won Octane Magazine’s EFG International Historic Motoring Event of the Year award.

About the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is among the top automotive events in the world. Always held the second full weekend in March, “The Amelia” draws over 300 rare vehicles from collections around the world to The Golf Club of Amelia Island, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a celebration of the automobile like no other. The 20thannual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 13-15, 2015. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org or call 904-636-0027.

Photos courtesy Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

Photos courtesy Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

17 Feb

Automobile Industry Started in Hartford in 1891


New Britain, CT – “Hartford does not claim to have made the first automobile but does claim to have started the automotive industry,” This statement was made by pioneer auto designer and engineer, Henry Cave, who worked with Daimler Motor Company, Locomobile and with George B. Seldon to design, develop and demonstrate the first Seldon patent car.

The very first Hartford-based company to work in the automobile industry was the National Machine Company in 1891. Located at Capital Ave and Woodbine Street, they made motors for Steinway-Daimler, the engine that established the auto industry in Europe. But five years later in 1895, the Pope Manufacturing Company established the Motor Carriage Department and experimented with gas powered automobiles. Their conclusion was that these cars were very noisy, vibrating, greasy and complicated to operate. They also believed that the wealthiest citizens, the only ones who could afford such a vehicle, would not be interested in such a car.

The Pope Manufacturing Company concentrated their efforts into designing and developing electric engines and in 1897 formally offered to the public the Columbia Electric Phaeton for a price of $3,000. Henry Cave reports, “Under the direction of the production experts, these handsome vehicles were the first to be made in this country on anything like a substantial basis.’ The Hartford Times wrote,” Its cost of maintenance and operation should be much less than that of a pair of horses…never found anyone so stupid that they could not run the carriage but there are many who can’t handle a horse…6 or 8 inches of snow “no obvious obstacle”.

The Hartford Courant wrote under the title, ” HORSELESS ERA COMES”, the electric vehicle was managed and turned about with as much comfort and success as you would have in driving the gentlest horse…The idea of sitting in a rolling carriage, nothing in front of the dashboard but space…is something exhilarating and fascinating.”

The first vehicles made were made under the Columbia name. Pictured here is a Columbia Mark III Stanhope, an advertising post card produced by the Pope Manufacturing Company. The vehicle was quite simple with four bicycle wheels and seating for two. It had a gong (forerunner to the horn) and four electric lights to illuminate the way at night. One of the first well known owners was Andrew Carnegie.

The Klingberg Vintage Motorcar Festival in New Britain, CT on June 20th, 2015, will feature many automobiles manufactured in Connecticut including examples from Pope Hartford, Columbia, Corbin and Locomobile and is in fact the largest gathering of these early “brass era” cars in the country.

Source: Klingberg Vintage Motorcar Festival

Pope-Hartford back in the day

Pope-Hartford back in the day

1908 Air-Cooled Corbin

1908 Air-Cooled Corbin

28 Jan

Historic Racing Returns to Thompson Speedway’s Oval Track May 13-16

Scene from Opening Day at the Thompson Speedway, May 26, 1940

Scene from Opening Day at the Thompson Speedway, May 26, 1940

Thompson, CT – The 2015 season will mark the 75th anniversary of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, so it is fitting that it would also see the return of historic racing on the 5/8 mile oval, for the first time since 2012. The Historic Oval Invitational will be a two-day event held on Friday and Saturday, May 15-16, 2015.

The races are open to any race cars built before 2000, and will include Midgets, Sprints, 3/4 Midgets, Super Modifieds, Champ Cars, Vintage Outlaws, Stock Cars and more.

The event will also feature a Hot Rod & Classic Car Show on Saturday morning from 10AM until 2PM. The cost to display a car is $10, which includes grandstand admission for the event.

Spectator prices, entry fees and more information can be found on TSMP’s website at www.thompsonspeedway.com, or by phone at 860-923-2280. Updates will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Racing, yes, and so much more.

Tucked away in the beautiful countryside of Northeastern Connecticut, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (TSMP) is the home of a historic raceway and a classic 18-hole golf course. Now, as the facility is continuously improved, Thompson Speedway offers more than ever before.

Owned and operated by the Hoenig family for four generations since before it became a racetrack in 1939, TSMP today offers more options than any other track in New England.

As always, the historic 5/8 mile high banked oval hosts a number of annual NASCAR stock car and open wheel racing events, including the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen All American Series.

The 1.7 mile road course is the rebirth of the first purpose-built closed-circuit road racing track in the United States. It offers elements to challenge amateur and professional drivers alike – and includes the nostalgia inherent in its history.

The Raceway Golf Club offers 18 holes of classic New England golf course design. The Clubhouse, Restaurant and Banquet Facility overlook both the golf course and motorsports facility. Bogey’s Ice Cream Stand continues to serve up the region’s best ice cream.

And today, TSMP also includes a unique Drivers Club, the High Performance Driving Experience, and Corporate/Private events of all types.

Just 50 minutes from downtown Boston, 2.5 hours from New York City and 40 minutes from Hartford and Providence, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park continues to strive to bring more excitement and entertainment to fans of all ages. In 2015, race goers will find something at TSMP for the whole family to enjoy.



Courtesy: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

17 Dec

Frank Duryea Drove the First Automobile in Connecticut over 120 Years Ago

The 1893-94 Duryea is one of the earliest American-made automobiles  - National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The 1893-94 Duryea is one of the earliest American-made automobiles
– National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Madison, CT – Frank Duryea was a long-time Madison resident who helped develop one of the first American automobiles. In 1893, Frank, along with his brother, built one of the first cars in the country to have an internal combustion engine. The following year he drove the first car ever to make its way into Connecticut and then went on to race his design in the first recorded automobile race in America.

Frank Duryea was born October 8, 1869, in Washburn, Illinois. He attended high school in Wyoming, Illinois, and worked on his family’s farm before an interest in mechanics led him to a job as a toolmaker in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

J. Frank Duryea, ca. 1945 – National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

J. Frank Duryea, ca. 1945 – National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

In 1886, Frank’s brother, Charles, witnessed the operation of a gasoline engine at the Ohio State Fair and began designing an engine of his own. Over the next 7 years Frank and Charles Duryea designed a prototype of an automobile which utilized that engine. While a disagreement over whose design ultimately prevailed tore the brothers apart, the “Buggyaut” (as the brothers named it) made its debut on the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 22, 1893. The vehicle traveled between 200 and 300 feet but came to a screeching halt with the failure of the belt transmission. After Frank made a slight adjustment to the design, he drove the vehicle nearly half a mile later that day.
With Charles back in Illinois selling bicycles, Frank took to making improvements to their automobile design. He replaced the belt transmission with gears and friction clutches and utilized Charles’s single-cylinder engine design to power it. In 1894, Frank drove his design into Hartford, Connecticut, making it the first car to appear both in the city as well as in the state.

The following year, Duryea appeared in and won several automobile races, including one from Chicago to Evanston, Illinois, recognized as the first automobile race in the US. In 1896, Frank constructed 13 identical cars from his design, making his Duryea Motor Wagon Company the first to make multiple copies of an automobile for sale.

In 1904 the Duryea brothers opened the Stevens-Duryea Company, a car manufacturing enterprise in Springfield, and Frank served as the company’s vice president and chief engineer until he retired in 1915. After a move to Greenwich, Frank settled into life in Madison in 1938. He spent the better part of his retirement there gardening in the yard and occasionally traveling for pleasure or to events like the 50th anniversary celebration held in Chicago commemorating his remarkable win in America’s first automobile race.

Frank Duryea died in Saybrook in 1967, at the age of 97. Among the lasting testaments to his achievements is the inclusion of the first Duryea automobile in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Credit: www.connecticuthistory.com