At the time, a new fangled horseless carriages could barely outpace a person on foot. Still, a steam-powered vehicle dubbed “The Rocket” and a daredevil driver named Fred Marriott set a land speed record for years to come.
It was January 26 of 1906, on the hard-packed sands of Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach, Florida. Fred Marriott, an employee of the Stanley Motor Company won the Dewar Trophy when he set the record: the fastest mile at 28.2 seconds, or 127.66 miles per hour (204 k.p.h.).
For You Car Buffs
According to Daniel Vaughn, the Rocket had limited drag. Canoe-shaped, it was 16 feet long and 3 feet wide at its widest point. It was aerodynamically designed with most of the components housed within the body. Its 3.1 liter engine was a twin-piston double acting type that was capable of producing a reported 275 or 1000 psi at 700 degrees F. The entire vehicle weighed less than 1680 pounds.
Couldn’t Top Their Own Record
In 1907, Marriott and his bosses, the Stanley twins, set out to beat their own record in a more powerful version of “The Rocket.” Unfortunately, sand conditions were poor that day. Marriott reached a speed topping 150, but hit a divot that sent him and his car airborne for about 100 feet before touching down.
The car was destroyed and its boiler rolled into the surf. Marriott and the Stanley twins gave up racing after that.
The Stanley Twins: Green-Tech Pioneers
The Rocket was one of many inventions by twin brothers, Francis E. Stanley and Freelan O. Stanley who were widely known as F.E. and F.O.. (Their other inventions included a patented machine that coated dry photographic plates and an early airbrush nozzle.)
Today, they would be considered green-tech pioneers, although in their day, steam ruled and gasoline was the lesser-known alternative fuel.
Their lust for speed sparked in the summer of 1897 when they saw a French inventor demonstrate his steam-driven car at a local fair. Inspired by his wife’s inability to master the art of riding a bicycle, Francis urged his brother to help him develop their own steam car.
The Flying Teapot
F.E. and F.O. d formed their car company in 1898 and produced their first steam car, which became known as The Flying Teapot. It was easy to run and could achieved speeds up to 35 mph (56 kph).
Although the car was an instant success, the Flying Teapot had its downsides. Drivers had to stop every ten miles or so to refill the boiler, and the large objects travelling at break neck speeds terrified people and horses alike. As a result, speed limits in town ranged from five to ten miles an hour. Police went to great lengths to catch speeding motorists.
The brothers sold their company after only a few months, but they returned to the business of making cars in 1902 when they formed the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. Their cars came to be known as Stanley Steamers.
They staged various events to publicize their steam cars, including racing up mountains and racing against gas-powered cars. To promote their machines, they actively competed in auto races, pitting their steam power against gasoline-fueled engines, often winning. The “Stanley Steamer” achieved fame when brother F. E. Stanley did a mile in 2:11 on a dirt track with a 30 degree incline.
In 1903, the Stanleys’ plant employed 140 workers. In 1918, they sold the business, after manufacturing more than 10,000 Steamers.
In 1908, the Stanley brothers produced and sold (for about $2,500) a Gentleman’s 30-horsepower Speedy Roadster capable of 60 miles per hour that could run more than 50 miles on a single tank of water. Since these almost 13-foot-long models were the sporty/racing cars of 1908, most were driven into the ground.
And The Winner Is…
Electric vehicles were clean and easy to start but limited on their range. Steam powered vehicles were also clean and quiet but required a few minutes before starting to allow steam to form and needed to be refilled every ten miles or so.
Stanley’s most successful year was 1907 with 775 Steamers sold. The gasoline engine was hard to start and noisy and dirty once it did. But with the advent of the electric starter around 1914, it dominated the market.
The Stanley Steamer Car. Company closed in 1924.
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