- Written by webmin
Charles Duryea, 1895, courtesy David Greenlees
If anyone in America in 1896 was qualified to have an opinion on where the automobile would take us, it was Charles E. Duryea. Along with his brother J. Frank, he had been the sharp point of developing motorcars in the late 1880s, with their prototype rolling in the fall of 1893.
By that measure, he was an elder statesman when The Horseless Age, the first journal of the nascent industry, launched in 1895. Charles was already in the process of severing ties with his brother’s Springfield, Massachusetts, operation, with his own bicycle operation in Peoria, and would soon start his own line of automobiles. He was also a regular contributor to HA and other magazines from early on, as well as lecturing and other activities which kept his name current.
In 1896, he published the following column in The Horseless Age, called “A Glimpse Futurward.” It’s both a round-up of the state of the industry, and a brief discourse on the potential of small gas engines. Some of his ideas, like the airplane, motorcycle and motorboat (“automobile boating,” as it would come to be called, was more than 10 years off) were dead on. Less so was his notion that small, portable gas engines would proliferate – while utility engines were and still are used, they rapidly took a back seat to electric motors with the rise of electricity. Interestingly, he saw light gas engines as a solution to rural blight, suggesting they’d allow manufacturing to move into every small town and out of the city.
It is interesting, to many people, to look back over the past and see what has been accomplished in the years that have gone by: the battles that have been fought, the victories that have been won, or lost, the struggles and trials gone through, the successes accomplished or the failures recorded – these are all interesting to the student of history, and the pages of history, although in many, cases not so bright as we would like to see them, are both pleasant and instructive; but for pure, unadulterated pleasure, the pages of history are not to be compared with the pictures of air castles which may with reason be drawn, and which we may hope to see in the very near future.
We look backward over the century and trace the development of steam power in its effect upon civilization, and the picture is bright indeed. During that same century repeated attempts have been made to apply that same magnificent power, which has done so much in other lines, to the propulsion of vehicles upon the common highways of the land. Time after time this attempt has been made only to record a more or less complete failure, until less than a third of a century ago adverse legislation in England stopped attempts there and left the question awaiting development in other lands. America has had much work to do in many lines, and has not the good roads found in Europe, so that this question was not taken up in the United States until the last decade. France, however, possessing splendid roads, saw the advantages to result from automobile vehicles, and pushed forward. The application of steam was first tried, with fair success, and today we see abroad two styles of steam vehicles giving very good satisfaction.
A little later the application of hydro-carbon to an internal combustion engine, commonly called a gas engine, was made with success, and to-day it bids fair to be the power of the future for this purpose. Within the last year or so America has come to the front in this matter and, making a virtue of necessity, has produced machines of sufficient power and of such light weight as to be able to surmount the difficulties found in her imperfect roads. These very difficulties made it necessary to produce superior vehicles and for this reason the highest examples of the automobile vehicles are found on this side of the water!
So thoroughly is this recognized that in an advertisement lately circulated by the Imperial Institute management of London, Eng., there appeared four types of vehicles, of which three were American.
This development of a new or nearly new application of heat to the production of energy is destined to play almost as important a part in the history of civilization of the future as the application of heat in the form of the steam engine has played in the past. While the heavier work may be satisfactorily done by the steam engine, it will be found that a smaller and lighter gas engine will serve better in lighter work in the future.
For example, where the tendency in the past has been to concentrate factories in one place so as to use single sources of power, the advent of the light, cheap, powerful motor will permit them to scatter into the smaller towns and so counteract the prevailing tendency of the large towns to grow larger at the expense of the smaller ones.
But the greatest effect on civilization will be found in the many uses for light motors. Motor vehicles require a very high power in very light weight. They require that the engine should be free from noise, vibration, odor, and that it should not require much attention. Such a motor will be found useful in almost every household and in every shop of every kind for all classes of work.
Such a motor is easily moveable and can be taken from one job to the next without difficulty. Farmers will find it in many places far more convenient than animal power, and housekeepers will use it in many places where muscular power now is used.
In the application to vehicles alone it will be widely beneficial. Bicycles of all sizes will be equipped with it. Small, light-weight boats will be driven by it at high speeds, and there is no reason why our many streams and bodies of water should not become as popular pleasure resorts as the bicycle has made our common roads. Tricycles, carriages – both large and small – will be nicely adapted to the needs of everybody, and in a few years their prices will likewise be suited to the buyer’s purse.
The experiments of such men as Maxim, Langley, Chanute and others no less prominent, but not so well known in America, assure us that ere many months we shall be able by the application of this light motive means to travel through the air at high speeds and with an amount of pleasure not before experienced in any means of locomotion. The motor vehicle is the incentive which has caused inventors to study the light motor problem, and therefore it is directly the cause of this step forward in the application of mechanical power, and it is well that inventors should be shown that their motors are applicable to other uses outside of the motor vehicle use. There is an enormous market to be filled, and there is no reason why many forms of motors cannot be successfully used in filling this market.
The writer wishes success to all who may enter this field and predicts a glorious future for those who succeed in producing motors which meet the requirements.