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updated: 8/15/2012 8:07 AM

Road races and gas prices dominated Elgin headlines in August 1912

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  • ... and now. This year's race will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, along Larkin Avenue and will feature vintage cars.

      ... and now. This year's race will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, along Larkin Avenue and will feature vintage cars.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer; 2002

  • The Elgin National Road race 100 years ago ...

    The Elgin National Road race 100 years ago ...
    Daily Herald File Photo


Gasoline jumped four cents a gallon over the summer a century ago, and motorists were asking what could be done.

The Elgin Y.W.C.A. said it would not restrict services to women because of their age as had been done in another city.

And, Elgin's first motorcycle police officer got his first ride off to a rather unceremonious start.

Here's a look at those and others stories that made Elgin area news in late summer of 1912.

Age is just a number: How old is a woman before she "ceases being young?"

Responding to a ruling by the Chicago Y.W.C.A. that the age is 25 years old, the director of the Elgin institution said, "We have no age list here and never will. A woman is as old as she feels."

"We have married women here twice that age," added the Elgin director. "The only theory I can advance for the movement in Chicago is that they have crowded headquarters and want to make room for others."

Taking a tumble: Elgin's first motorcycle police officer got his career off to a bad start as his inaugural ride turned into quite an embarrassment.

Although the police chief selected a veteran of the force for the new assignment, he still needed to be trained in how to ride the bike. The officer was given instruction in how to balance and start the machine, but there was just one important aspect of riding that his instructor failed to cover -- how to stop the motorcycle.

After falling off once, the officer managed to take the machine on a short ride but crashed a few blocks away from the station "badly damaging" the vehicle.

Horseless funeral: In another first for new modes of transportation, Elgin saw its first funeral that didn't involve a horse drawn vehicle.

The processional instead consisted of a motor powered hearse and three automobiles. Newspapers reported that the funeral of the 55-year-old woman was the first to enter the grounds of Bluff City Cemetery without a horse in sight.

Beer fly catcher: Elgin firefighters made the news with their invention of a new type of fly catcher to help alleviate the numerous insects in the fire barns in this era of horse drawn equipment.

Consisting of a funnel made of screen, the trap also had a quantity of beer at the bottom to lure the insects into the trap. After "thousands of flies" were caught in the trap, they were put to death by burning a quantity of sulfur near the trap.

Rising gasoline prices: A rise in gasoline prices of 4 cents per gallon since the beginning of the summer had Elgin residents "protesting against the increase."

"What can we do to stop it?" exclaimed one car owner in frustration. Automobile drivers at the time had their choice of "standard" gasoline at 19 cents a gallon or "Pennsylvania" gasoline at 22 cents a gallon.

In addition to car owners, some homes still used gasoline stoves, though grocers reported "there were far less" since many homeowners had switched to natural gas ranges which were less dangerous and more convenient.

Presidential election: Who would be the next U.S. president? Would Elgin desert the Republican Party that it had supported since the Civil War?

These were questions voters were wondering about as the Presidential election unfolded. Straw polls taken at the city's largest employer, the Elgin National Watch Company and the Brethren Publishing Company, showed Progressive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt clearly in the lead. Whether the new party -- formed by Roosevelt after a split in the Republican Party -- would run candidates for other local offices was still in doubt.

"I am of the belief that if men running for office (from other parties) are not with us, they are against us," said a party representative.

Start your engines: Finally, more than 30 cars of all makes and sizes including Stutz, Mercedes, and Dusenberg arrived in Elgin for the running of the third annual Elgin Road Races.

The races were held on an eight-mile course west of Elgin that encompassed Larkin Avenue, McLean Boulevard, Highland Avenue, Coombs Road, and the current Route 20. Originally, limited to stock vehicles, 1912 marked the first year that specially built racers were allowed to compete.

The premier event, which drew tens of thousands of people and included the closing of local roads, almost didn't happen because of the protest of one property owner.

"They have no right to fence me up in front of my property. They have treated me like a dog," said one homeowner. Race promoters eventually prevailed in spite of the woman's $10,000 lawsuit.

Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin history. He welcomes questions and comments from readers. Email him at

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