East End Circus brings First Auto to York in 1896
The first automobile seen in York, was here as an attraction with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was not just York, many communities got their first glimpse at a “horseless carriage” as a result of the 1896 edition of the Barnum & Bailey Circus touring America. If you are reading this on the Ydr.com site, click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post on the original YorkBlog site; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.
The May 14, 1896, issue of The York Daily, contained an article promoting Barnum & Bailey Circus visit to York for two shows on Friday May 15, 1896. “The horseless carriage” was at the end of a long list of attractions. For most newspapers, including the local papers, the Duryea Motor Wagon was viewed as one of the many curious novelties exhibited at the circus; i.e. no special attention was given in articles covering the visit by the circus. Often when the vehicle was covered by the press, they were reporting on an incident where the “horseless carriage” spooked horses; with predictions such contraptions would never be allowed on roads.
In 1876, P. T. Barnum set-up on Penn Common, to present his Greatest Show on Earth. Twenty-years later, the circus set-up on a site in the east end of York. The May 15, 1896, issue of The York Daily, reported on the logistics for Barnum & Bailey’s show: “The unloading will be at the Queen Street crossing. The place of exhibit will be a plot of ground east of the Mill Road in East York, between Market and Philadelphia streets.”
In 1896, North Sherman Street was known as Diehl Mill Road. The circus was undoubtedly utilizing the 11-acre Daniel Loucks Estate lot of undeveloped ground just east of Diehl Mill Road. In terms of present road names, those 11-acres were basically bounded on the south by East Clark Avenue; just behind the buildings on East Market Street. The other present road boundaries for the 1896 circus grounds are: North Sherman Street on the west, East Philadelphia Street on the north, and North Albemarle Street on the east.
Also within the May 15, 1896, issue of The York Daily, the Order of March was published for an early morning circus parade, starting at 9 o’clock, through the streets to the circus grounds. Within that Order of March, here is a short quote, leading up to the mention of the automobile:
… followed by twenty-four elephants, the allegorical chariots illustrating nursery rhymes and children’s fairy stories, together with the Duryea Motor Wagon or horseless carriage, the identical vehicle winning the race in November last. As the bills [circus billboards] say, “It is worth coming miles to see, and once seen never forgotten.”
The day following the circus, the May 16, 1896, issue of The York Daily, reported on the exhibition. The journalist does not mention the automobile. The event that stood out for the reporter:
The crowning event of the day, in the opinion of nearly everybody, was the equestrian performance given by John O’Brien, the well-known horse trainer. He had 51 horses in the ring at one time and they formed a large pyramid, formed concentric circles and made a beautiful and kaleidoscopic picture. This alone is well worth the price of admission.
The “horseless carriage” touring with the 1896 Circus was an 1895 model Duryea Motor Wagon. Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea built their first successful Duryea Motor Wagon in 1893. That single-cylinder gasoline engine powered vehicle, was initially demonstrated in Springfield, Massachusetts, during September of 1893, and is considered the first successful gas-engine vehicle built in the United States. Charles E. Duryea was issued United States Patent No. 540,648 for his “Road Vehicle.”
In 1895, the Duryea Brothers established the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in Springfield, Massachusetts for purpose of manufacturing motor vehicles. During that year they perfected the design and reliability of a more powerful vehicle. That 1895 model Duryea Motor Wagon utilized a two-cylinder gasoline engine with a spray carburetor and electric ignition. Frank Duryea drove the vehicle in the 54-mile Chicago Times Herald Race on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. The Duryea won, it was the only vehicle to complete the race; in fact it marked the first United States endurance race in which any vehicle finished. It is that 1895 model Duryea Motor Wagon that toured with 1896 edition of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and thus was the first automobile to be seen in York.
In 1896, the Duryea Brothers begin commercial production and sold thirteen vehicles by the end of 1896. Over the next three years limited production continues. However, the brothers have a running disagreement on how to finance substantially increased production; the end result, they go their separate ways. Charles Duryea continues low volume production of automobiles until 1917, after moving his operations to Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1900. Duryea’s test track for perfecting the design and reliability of his innovative automobiles was often the switchback road up the side of Mount Penn in Reading.
That switchback road in Reading was thus named Duryea Drive. It is closed during the August weekend that the Sports Car Clubs of America hold the Duryea Hillclimb. You’ll see anything from showroom cars, to modified cars to purpose built cars navigating the 2.3-mile course with 13-hairpin turns, past the Pagoda, over the 800-feet elevation change; in trying to be the fastest car, in each of the many classes, to reach the Fire Tower atop Mount Penn. The first time I attended this hillclimb was in 1978 and returned several times in the 80s. I’ve already put it on my calendar for this summer; the 65th running of the Duryea Hillclimb is August 20-21, 2016.
This is a photo of the 1895 model Duryea Motor Wagon that toured with 1896 edition of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. It is a copy of the May Photo in a 1966 Gazette and Daily Calendar within the collections of the York County History Center. The utilization of this photo for the month of May 1966 was appropriate; it marked the 70th anniversary, to the month, of the “First Auto Seen in York.”
Links to related posts include:
- When Barnum’s 3-Ring Circus was on York’s Penn Common
- 1914 Pullman Chassis; First York Auto Show at The Coliseum
- Sole Surviving Pullman Automobile with Vulcan Electric Gear Shift
- 1912 Aviation Meet at York Fairgrounds featured Curtiss Aeroplane racing a York-Built Car
- Car Manufacturing Factory planned in Springettsbury
- A New Car by an Old Designer, the KLINE KAR; Pullman Pedigree to Racing Success, Part 1
- A New Car by an Old Designer, the KLINE KAR; Pullman Pedigree to Racing Success, Part 2
- A New Car by an Old Designer, the KLINE KAR; Pullman Pedigree to Racing Success, Part 3