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In 1908, the U.S. Competed in a New York to Paris Auto Race

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(GERMANY OUT) The great Auto race 1908 N.Y-Moskau-Paris: The german Protos car on its way crossing the USA. february 1908 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Behold the 1908 New York to Paris Auto Race: The German team’s car is seen here. (ullstein bild via Getty Images)


Sometimes real life throws up events too crazy to invent. This is one of them. In 1908, six teams competed to see which one could win the drive from New York to Paris. They started on February 12 in the Big Apple, with 250,000 people turning out to watch. (The event was well publicized, thanks to sponsors The New York Times and France’s Le Matin.)

By now, you may have noticed some odd things about this story. For one: Why are cars driving from the U.S. to France? For another: Why are they doing this in the middle of winter? Alex Q. Arbuckle has investigated the race for Mashable and explains this was all part of the plan. Arbuckle writes:

“The planned route would take the racers across the United States, up through Canada into Alaska, over the Bering Strait (which race organizers hoped would be frozen solid in the dead of winter) to Siberia, through Russia and finally Europe and Paris.”

To recap: The plan was for these primitives automobiles from six teams—three from France and one each from the United States, Italy, and Germany—to drive over the frozen Bering Strait.

Did the plan go as intended? Not really, but incredibly, within six months two teams had traveled roughly 22,000 miles and completed the journey. The American team won … though thanks to a bizarre system of penalties and allowances in an attempt to ensure the race was “fair,” we had actually arrived four days behind the German team. (Don’t feel too sorry for the Germans—they committed one of the more flagrant violations of the rules when they shipped their car from Utah to Seattle by train.)

To read more about arguably the most surreal chapter in auto racing history, click here.

RealClearLife Staff