Chapter 2 - A Little History
In 1887 a Frenchman named Gottlieb Daimler attached a crude gasoline engine on the rear of a rowboat and putt-putted a few yards down the river Seine in Paris - the motorboat had been born. Quickly the idea spread to the United States and soon members of yacht clubs raced against each other and later against different clubs. Powerboat racing grew and grew until there was a definite need for organization because of the increasing participants and speeds.
The first Harmsworth Challenge Race was held in 1903, which saw England defeat France. Meanwhile, early in 1904, a boat was seen running about on the waters around New York City. The craft had been built to demonstrate the engine for which she had been named, Standard. She measured 59 feet in length and had an 8½ foot beam, her designers had been a pair of naval architects named Harold Lee and Frederick Brinton, she had a unique light hull made of 3/16" thick mahogany planking, was powered by a six cylinder engine that produced 110 horsepower and was known to have unusual speed.
The old Columbia Yacht Club staged a race on the Hudson River in June of 1904 which they called the Gold Cup. Three boats entered the race: Water Lily, Fiat l and Standard, which was driven by her co-owner Carl C. Riotte. Standard outdistanced her two opponents and averaged 23.613 m.p.h. in the best 32-mile heat then captured the race with an average speed of 23.160 m.p.h.!
In September, later that year, another Gold Cup was held on the same course. Willis Sharpe Kilmer piloted his Vingt-Et-Un II to victory while averaging an amazing 24.900 miles per hour. During these early days of the sport few spectators attended. Only those who happened to read the notices on the yacht club bulletin boards showed up for the races. Nothing was ever mentioned to non-members and there would certainly be nothing written in the newspapers.
The event moved to Chippewa Bay, New York, in 1905 and a fellow named .Jonathan Wainwright took his boats, Chip I and Chip II, to victory for the next three years. E. J. Schroeder won with Dixie II in 1908 and brought the race to the St. Lawrence River in upper New York where it remained until 1913. The boats were more powerful now; the Dixie II had a 220-horsepower V-8 engine in her hull and captured the 1909 event at 29.590 m.p.h.
In 1915, a group from the "Motor City" entered their boat Miss Detroit and defeated eight others on Manhasset Bay, New York, but in the first Gold Cup on the Detroit River another newcomer named Miss Minneapolis took the 1916 contest while averaging 48.860 m.p.h. Gar Wood went to the Mississippi River in Minnesota with a powerboat called Miss Detroit II and averaged a terrific 54.410 m.p.h. and returned the race to Detroit.
Gar Wood became the greatest of drivers during this period. He won his second straight Gold Cup in 1918 with Miss Detroit III and repeated the next year. He captured his fourth in 1920 behind the wheel of Miss America I, and set a heat record of 70.412 m.p.h., which would last for 26 years, and in 1922 won his fifth consecutive Gold Cup. He also won the Harmsworth Trophies that were held in 1921, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1932 and 1933 with his line of Miss Americas.
The American Power Boat Association limited the engine size to 625 cubic inches in 1922 because they felt the boats were getting too large and expensive for the average racing participant. Packard Chriscraft won in'22 and '23 followed by Baby Bootlegger which also doubled its victories. George Townsend drove Greenwich Folly on Indian Harbor in Connecticut to 1926 and '27 Gold Cups, Imp did so in 1928 and Hotsy Totsy with Vic Kliesrath went to back-to-back trophies in 1929 and 1930. In September of 1926 a new race was run on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. -- they called it the President's Cup. It soon became a standard and well sought after event.
Horace E. Dodge, Jr., the Detroit playboy auto magnate, entered a boat of his own in 1932, named Delphine IV, and won, then later that year Gar Wood took his Miss America X to a world's record of 124.915 m.p.h., in the mile straightaway. From 1933-35 George Reis set a record that would not be equalled for thirty years; while in the driver's seat of El Legarto he captured three consecutive Gold Cups with the same hull and also nabbed two President's Cups. Horace Dodge had his second winner with Impshi in '36 and Herb Mendelson's Notre Dame followed with Clell Perry at the helm.
Foreign entries were allowed following rule changes in 1937 and the engine size was boosted to 732 cubic inches for Gold Cup Class powerboats in an attempt to conform with the international 12-litre Class which was become popular in Europe. An Italian won in 1938; Count Theo Rossi, of the wine family, was the first and only foreigner to win the Gold Cup as he piloted Alagi to a new lap record of 72.71 m.p.h. then took the President's Cup too.
Boats of this period were long and skinny, sporting a vee-hull and looking much like a cigar. Beside the driver many boats carried a mechanic so that quick repairs could be made during the running of a heat. Referred to as displacement craft, or "step" hydros, these powerboats plowed through the water much like today's pleasure boats and as a result encountered considerable drag. Some boats in the early 30s developed a form of planing surface, or steps, which lifted the hull partially out of the water, they still were forced to push much of the water aside.
Zalmon G. Simmons, Jr., drove his My Sin to a Gold Cup victory in 1939 while averaging 66.133 m.p.h. A boat called Hotsy Totsy III the honors in the next running and Simmons repeated with My Sin in 1941. World War II began and intervened with hydro activity until 1945. When the war ended there was available an abundance of surplus fighter plane engines from the United States and Great Britain.
Bandleader Guy Lombardo purchased My Sin, renamed it Tempo VI and won the first Gold Cup in five years with an average of 68.132 m.p.h. lie also broke Gar Wood's long-standing heat record by averaging 70.89 m.p.h. Danny Foster piloted Miss Peps V to victory in 1947 followed by another in '48 behind the wheel of Miss Great Lakes. A boat named My Sweetie took eleven consecutive races in 1949 with a driver named Bill Cantrell. Included in these victories were the Gold Cup, the President's Cup and the Silver Cup.
(Reprinted from Roostertails Unlimited by Andy Muntz, 1973)
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at email@example.com
© Leslie Field, 2000