On A Soapbox About The Soapbox
Competition has always been a large part of society, especially among men. Whether it be the Olympics of ancient Greece, the Roman chariot races or the English love of Equestrian sports every facet of society has some sort of love of the race. In America it is often automobiles races. Something about the love of speed and technology appeals to our wild side. It is manifest even in our youth, as is the case of the Soap Box Derby.
Once the automobile was invented, it didn’t take long for kids to fall in love with them and after that it didn’t take long before they were making their own pretend cars to race around in as well. In 1914 Charlie Chapin even made a silent film called “Kid Auto Races at Venice.”
So it is that one day in 1933, the Ohio based Dayton Daily News photographer Myron Scott happened to see some boys playing soapbox cars and thought it would make a great photographic event. He then thought it would be fun to organize a race of about 19 kids. The race went over so well that Myron pitched a larger race to his editor who loved the idea. They pitched the idea to a couple of sponsors, namely Chevy who also loved the idea and the Soapbox Derby was created.
August 1933 was the first official race in the derby. While full numbers are not exact, it is estimated that over 300 kids showed up with cars made up off everything from old crates, baby carriage wheels, used car parts and anything else they could think of. To their surprise and delight, over 40,000 people showed up to watch the race. Chevy saw what an opportunity this was and fully embraced the derby.
Robert Turner of Munice, IN was the first ever soapbox derby winner and his car was made from the wooden top of a saloon bar. He had discovered that his car would go faster if he took the rubber off the wheels and it proved to do the trick. Funny enough, right after he won all of his wheels fell off, but he won none-the-less. His win earned him a $500 dollar scholarship prize which considering it was the Great Depression, could go quite far.
After the success of the first race it was decided that it should be held annually with Scott in charge and Chevy signed on as a sponsor. Because the terrain was much hillier they moved the event to Akron, Ohio, away from its original home in Dayton. As the event quickly grew in popularity Chevy soon began bringing in celebrities to promote the event, including the likes of Abbot and Costello, Roy Rodgers, James Stewart and Pat Boone. At one point it was considered one of the top five attended sporting events in the United States with a record 70,000 people showing up to watch.
Sadly the 1950’s and 60’s marked the peak popularity of the races and a official set of national and regional circuits emerged with very specific rules and regulations. Chevy continued to sponsor the event all the way until 1972, helping the derby become a beloved tradition to the American public. While it isn’t nearly as possible as it used to be, the races are still held today at the Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio.
Jeff Jordan writes about cars, history, education, and real estate. For your own great ride check out certified used cars.