Speed demons terrorizing a public street. Pedestrians scattering. Out-of-control vehicles swerving at the last second. A precious little dog killed by motorists achieving unprecedented speeds of… 45 miles per hour!
The date was 17 May 1905. The location was Paddock Road between Bond Hill and Avondale. The event was the first annual hill climb of the Automobile Club of Cincinnati.
Fact is, Paddock Road is not much as Cincinnati hills go. It’s not the sort of breath-taking incline that inspires a thoughtful reluctance like Straight Street or Ravine Street. The slope up Paddock is actually known as Rose Hill and tops out at 740 feet above sea level, mid-range for local elevations.
And yet, “fright” and “daring” and “shock” were among the words employed to describe the Automobile Club hill-climbing competition. The race earned national attention for Cincinnati. Motor Age magazine reported on the event in its 25 May 1905 issue. Among the revelations, Paddock Road wasn’t even paved yet. The surface was macadam – basically compressed, crushed rock.
“The course began in the sag near the B. & O. S. W. railway depot at Bond Hill, a suburb, and continued up a hill averaging 25 per cent, it is said, for 3,975 feet or 15 feet less than 3/4-mile, almost to Reading road, an automobile thoroughfare. The hill had been put in good condition by the board of public service and the shower saved the necessity of sprinkling. The surface is of macadam, and slightly rough where latest repairs had been made.”
In 1905, there were so few automobiles in Cincinnati – fewer than two hundred – that throngs turned out to watch a dozen flivvers try to climb a hill. More than 500 spectators crowded the finish line near the Reading Road intersection, with hundreds more lining the almost rural slope of Paddock Road.
“Spectators came on street cars, in automobiles, in carriages, on bicycles and on foot. They strung all along the course, but the largest crowd was at the curve near the finish, where the possibility of spills added interest to that particular spot. Handsome women in motor veils and their friends perched on the grassy hillside well up on the bank on the outside of the curve, while those eager for a nearer view lined the gutter on the most dangerous spot on the course.”
The spectators certainly included a lot of socially prominent Cincinnatians, because automobiles back then were affordable only to the wealthy – costing the equivalent of $50,000 to $70,000 in today’s dollars.
Among the drivers were Val Duttenhoffer, owner of a shoe company; Stanley Hooker, textile and dye executive; Dr. H.C. Wendell, a physician who parleyed his infatuation with motor cars into Cincinnati’s premier Cadillac dealership; Max Fleischmann, of the yeast-producing family and Andrew Hickenlooper, playboy son of the late chairman of the Cincinnati Gas, Coke, Coal & Mining Company.
None of the vehicles entered in the 1905 race represented a manufacturer still producing cars. There were Franklins, Autocars, Orients, Whites, Nationals, Reos, and Pope-Toledos. At least one of the entries, furniture magnate Robert Mitchell’s White touring car, was steam-powered.
Timing of the races was accomplished by telephone line between the starting line and the finish. Official scorer was Cincinnati Mayor Julius Fleischmann, himself an auto enthusiast.
The event began with vehicles of increasingly more powerful engines carrying one to four passengers. After two dozen runs, ranging from 14 miles per hour to nearly 30 miles per hour, officials announced the main event, known as the free-for-all. In this race, the only object was speed. The 30-horsepower Pope-Toledos owned this race. Dr. Wendell was still putt-putting his way toward the finish line in his 14-horsepower Orient at a tad over 20 miles an hour when Max Fleischmann came roaring up the hill, heading toward an almost certain rear-end collision. According to the Cincinnati Post [18 May 1905]:
“Although Fleischmann’s machine had been held two minutes after Dr. H.C. Wendell started, the Fleischmann entry caught him at the tape and a collision was narrowly averted. Wendell swerved to the right just in time and Fleischmann’s car dashed past like a shot, narrowly missing several spectators.”
Minutes later, a little dog owned by the C.H. Burton family was not so lucky, according to the Enquirer [18 May 1905]:
“The ladies who had the dog with them were at the finishing line deeply interested in the races when, just as President Val Duttenhofer’s machine was crossing the line in the good time of 1:53 4/5, the dog darted out in front of it and was instantly killed. It was just at this point that the crowd of spectators was thickest and it was only due to the presence of mind and skill of the operator of the machine that it was kept from swerving and a serious accident avoided.”
The biggest fright resulted from Andy Hickenlooper’s furious dash to the finish, fish-tailing through the final turn:
“Women shrieked and men fled during the free-for-all, when the 30-horsepower Pope-Toledo of Andrew Hickenlooper, rounded the turn at a speed of 45 miles an hour, skidding into the crowd, which got away not an instant too soon. Hickenlooper, a son of the late General Hickenlooper, gas magnate, was in the car, but it was driven by Chauffeur Charlie Schiller, who righted it without slackening speed and dashed over the tape in good form, covering the course in 1:00 3/5.”
The Automobile Club organized hill climbs for several years, eventually moving on to the somewhat steeper grade of Stanley Avenue in Columbia-Tusculum.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities.