New York, 1902: Some Images from Staten Island

The broad, general area that I have come to focus upon as an automotive competition historian is the first quarter-century of automobile racing in the United States, the period covering the years from 1895 to the end of the 1920 season. This is when the sport was in its formative stages and developing not only the men and machines but the necessary infrastructure for conducting racing. It was also a time when automotive contests were held in places that might seem unusual or even odd today. A century later, few New Yorkers could imagine that their city was once a major hub for American automobile racing during the dawning years of the 20th Century.

The day following Decoration Day in 1902, Staten Island was the site of speed runs sanctioned by the Automobile Club of America, which had just helped form the American Automobile Association at a meeting held in Chicago in early March. The speed runs were held on public roads, those portions of Southfield Boulevard that ran through Grant City on Staten Island. Both the flying kilometer and flying mile were the distances measured during the speed trials. The course used can be seen below:


The course map is from The Horseless Age, 28 May 1902, page 662.

I was interested in seeing what images I could find from this event as well as one held in August at Brighton Beach. Once I found the images, I wanted to see what I could do to adapt them for use in a possible article on these races. This posting will focus on Staten Island with a later one on the Brighton Beach meeting.

Here is a photograph of Percy Owen, on his 15-horsepower Winton, the winner of the 1,000 to 2,000 pound class for gasoline cars, that appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune on 1 June 1902, page 4:


Here is the same image after a few simple changes:


The speed trials on Staten Island were halted when the Baker Torpedo lost control and plunged into a crowd of spectators not far from the end of the timed run area. Two of the spectators died either at the scene or after being evacuated and a third died roughly six weeks later; a half-dozen other spectators suffered injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.The two in the Torpedo suffered only minor injuries, The crash led the ACA to pass resolutions barring the club from conducting speed contests, to include road races, on public roads.

Here is the Baker Torpedo from the front page of the New-York Tribune for 1 June 1902, showing the Torpedo prior to its speed run and then the aftermath of the crash:


I split the two images:


This image also appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune (3 June 1902, page 4) and The San Francisco Call (7 June 1902, page 6).


The 2 June 1902 edition of the Boston Globe (page 7) had an image of the Torpedo that was claimed to be taken just seconds prior to the crash:


Here is the image after a few changes:


I am beginning to grasp the ways that a few simple modifications to an image can help an image become easier to literally be seen. Those images can then be used as part of an article to literally illustrate the topic being discussed. Given the often poor quality of the images that one finds, these modifications often seem necessary to make them useable or even identifiable in some cases.

Next, I will look at images I found for the August event at Brighton Beach.


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