Herald and Journal
Herald & Journal, December 28, 1998

In 1875, a grand prix it wasn't

By MYRON HEUER

The first-ever car race was earlier than one might think. It ran from Green Bay to Madison, Wis. in the late 1870s.

During 1998, Wisconsin newspapers have been printing stories in commemoration of the state's sesquicentennial, 150 years of statehood. I thought I'd wrap up this year with a story of the first-ever car race.

In the first half of the 19th century, after James Watt invented the steam engine in 1782, many people were searching for ways to use steam power. Engines were made to use for farm equipment and locomotives.

Many Wisconsin people produced various versions of steam buggies. In 1875, the Wisconsin State Legislature offered a $10,000 reward for a horseless carriage that could run for 200 miles under its own power, could run backwards, and could steer out of the road for other vehicles to pass. Two years later, the legislature set up the "race" to run from Green Bay to Madison.

Six cars were entered, but only two, the "Green Bay" and the "Oshkosh" ended up starting the race.

The Green Bay won the first leg, and seemed to be winning when the vehicles were tested in pulling loads of water-soaked lumber. A mechanical problem forced it to stop, though, and the Oshkosh finished first.

The race to Madison was continued the next day. The Green Bay machine was faster, able to operate at different speeds while the Oshkosh had only one.

When the Green Bay was about half way to Fond du Lac, several miles ahead of its competitor, it again suffered mechanical problems and had to stop. The Oshkosh wagon passed it and was almost to Fond du Lac when it to had to stop for repairs.

The next day the race continue from Fond du Lac. The Green Bay operators used the second-fastest speed, hoping to avoid another breakdown, and so the Oshkosh buggy took the early lead. It stopped about 15 miles from Madison and continued on the next day, winning the race at an average speed of six miles an hour. The Green Bay never finished.

It is assumed that the Oshkosh people got the $10,000 dollars from the legislature. I guess that even back then the legislature spent taxpayer money foolishly.


We now have one year to get the computers fixed so they won't revert back to 1900 on Jan. 1, 2000. Got a better idea. We messed up this century so bad, let's leave the computers be and try again for the 1900s. Maybe we'll do a better job this time.


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