Image From National Automobile Museum, Reno, Nev.
It would become known as "The Great Race"; an epic test of men and machines. It was the transcontinental New York to Paris Automobile Race in 1908 sponsored by The New York Times and Le Matin, a Paris newspaper, that achieved a feat which has never been equaled more than 100 years later.
In a world class competition of automotive ingenuity, design and endurance, five drivers representing France, Italy, Germany and one driver from the U.S. traveled across three continents over 22,000 miles in 169 days. (And remember, this was at a time when horses were considered a much more reliable form of transportation.)
It began on February 12, 1908 under a sunny, clear sky in New York City where the temperature was near freezing. A crowd of 250,000 reportedly gathered in Times Square on Lincoln's birthday and everyone was excited to see history in the making. There the race would begin its round-the-world odyssey.
The race teams crossed the U.S. from New York to San Francisco in winter, a feat never before accomplished by automobile. They traveled across the island of Japan and the event brought the first cars ever seen in that country. Reporters said they slogged across Siberia, Manchuria, Russia germany and France. "The race was a skidding, shoveling, sleet-stinging, snow-clogging war against winter and it was a rain-drenching, mud sinking battle against spring."
Race teams drove relentlessly without rest, worked late into the night making repairs; changed tires all too often and tested the limits of their endurance, health and sanity.
On July 30, 1908 it was George Schuster, the chief mechanic of the E.R. Thomas Motor Company, Buffalo, NY, who arrived in Paris first. He drove his 1907 'Thomas Flyer' to a victory that brought prestige to the fledgling American automobile industry.
How significant was this event? After the Thomas Flyer's successful crossing of the country in winter, it shifted the mindset of the nation. Automobiles, we learned, could be a year-round mode of transportation, and, an efficient, reliable means of long-distance travel.
The public fervor for automotobiles stimulated road building across the U.S. and the development of countless businesses and services that make up "roadside America."
For those behind the wheel in this around-the-world race, it was a contest of man and machine against primitive roads and difficult weather conditions that no auto race before or since has ever approached.
The car had a four-cylinder, 60-hp engine and cost $4,500 when new. (For the race, extra gas tanks were mounted and spare tires were strapped on along with a few other modifications.)
After the race Thomas auto sales dramatically increased but the company went into receivership in 1912 and was purchased by the Empire Smelting Company which continued to build cars through 1918.
Schuster's world-class 1907 Thomas Flyer was donated by Harrah's Hotels and Casinos to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada where it now resides as what the Los Angeles Times called "a stellar moment in automotive history." If you're out there, go see it!