This Day in History – July 22nd, 1894

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Count Jules-Albert de Dion

Steam takes the lead! And on this day in 1894, in Rouen, France, Count Jules-Albert de Dion came in first place for the very first automobile race with his steam powered horseless carriage! He was the first to cross the line in this first ever race from Paris to Rouen, but he did not win; how could this be?

With the advent of the motor car, one nation in particular immediately embraced it with unabashed enthusiasm. French car manufacturers quickly struck upon the idea of staging a race to showcase their cars to the public and on this day in 1894, Parisian newspaper Le Petit Journal organized the first ever car race; a 79 mile route from Paris to Rouen via Bois de Boulogne.

With an average speed of 12 mph, Count Jules-Albert de Dion took six hours and 48 minutes to be the first to cross the finishing line, but despite finishing three and a half minutes ahead of Albert Lemaître (driving a Peugeot), De Dion did not win. Cars were also judge on handling and safety characteristics as well as speed, and De Dion’s steam car required a stoker which the judges concluded was outside their criteria. 

Today, France is perhaps best known for its bicycle races, but it is also the birthplace of motor racing . . . I wonder if NASCAR fans know that this is essentially a French sport?

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