RACING

The World’s First Motor Race

April 19, 2020

Georges Bouton and Jules-Albert de Dion causing a stir and setting a record in 1887. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Photo: Hulton Archive | Getty Images | Georges Bouton and Jules-Albert de Dion causing a stir and setting a record in 1887. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first prearranged match race of two self-powered road vehicles over a prescribed route occurred at 4:30 A.M. on August 30, 1867.

The race was between Ashton-under-Lyne, a market town in Tameside, Greater Manchester, England and Old Trafford, is an area near Stretford, in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford, Greater Manchester, England, two miles southwest of Manchester city center, a distance of eight miles.

It was won by the carriage of Isaac Watt Boulton, a British engineer and founder of the locomotive-hire business known as Boulton’s Siding. This was one of six he said he had run over the years, perhaps driven by his 22-year-old son, James W. The race was against Daniel Adamson’s carriage, likely the one made for Mr. Schmidt and perhaps driven by Schmidt. The reports do not indicate who was driving, since both were violating the red-flag law then fully in force. The Red flag laws were laws in the United Kingdom and the United States enacted in the late 19th century, requiring drivers of early automobiles to take certain safety precautions, including waving a red flag in front of the vehicle as a warning.

Boulton’s carriage was developed from a scrapped John Bridge Adams light-rail vehicle. These were solid fired steam carriages. This event and the details of the vehicles are recorded in the contemporary press, The Engineer, and in Fletcher’s books.

The Wisconsin legislature passed an act in 1875 offering a substantial purse for the first US motor race, which was run on July 16, 1878, over a 200-mile course from Green Bay to Appleton, Oshkosh, Waupon, Watertown, Fort Atkinson and Janesville, then turning north and ending in Madison.

Only two competed: the Oshkosh and the Green Bay (the machines were referred to by their town of origin). This is examined and illustrated in detail in The Great Race of 1878 by Richard Backus, Farm Collector, May/June 2004.

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