In the early 20th century as outboard engines and motorboats were developed the Albany to New York Boat Race was a way to showcase what these engines could do. Running 136 miles from the Albany boat basin to 77nd Street in New York City, the boat race was a grueling, bone-shaking, spray-spitting marathon run.
The film below is the full-length version of what has been posted many times online in shorter versions. Sponsored by Mercury Outboard Motors, the film covers the 1949 race
Although little of the early history of this race has been recorded, the Hudson River Maritime Museum has a copy of a program from the New York Motor Boat Club's "First Annual Long Distance Motor Boat Race," from New York City to Albany and back again, which was held on July 3, 1909.
Starting at the New York Motor Boat Club House at the foot of West 147th Street in New York City with the turnaround at a stake boat off the Albany Yacht Club House in Albany, NY, the race included the return to New York City, a distance of 270 miles. "A supply a fuel" was kept at Newburgh, Athens, and Albany for refueling.
The boats had to be propelled by "explosive engine or engines operated by either gasolene [sic], kerosene, or alcohol. Any ingredient to increase the power of the fuel will not be allowed." Paid pilots and navigators were also not allowed - which meant that boat owners largely had to pilot their own vessels. Captains had to keep their own time logs, making notations as they passed prominent points, and these had to be handed in to the race committee within twelve hours of finishing the race. Interestingly, "automobile boats," which were high-speed motor launches made with automobile engines, were excluded from the race.
According to the Kingston Daily Freeman, June 30, 1909, the race included "at least" 26 registrants - including six open boats, "one auxiliary sloop" and twenty cabin boats. Although we have yet to find the results of the race, on January 7, 1910, the New York Times reported on the annual meeting of the New York Motor Boat Club, writing, "As a promoter of races the Motor Boat Club has been signally successful and conspicuous, having conducted a larger number of these contests in 1909 than ever before, and exceeding in number those of many other organizations. The New York to Albany race, held in July last, was very successful, and proved so popular that it will doubtless become as fixed on the schedule of motor boat events as the Bermuda, Marblehead, and Block Island races."
The race did indeed become an annual event, and by the 1920s "automobile boats" had taken over as the primary high-speed launch. It is not clear when the race ceased to be a round-trip affair and started in Albany instead of New York City, but by the mid-1920s the race was half the distance. This footage from British Pathe dates between 1929 and 1932 (the dates of Herbert Lehman's service as Lieutenant Governor of New York):
The end of the footage mentions that this was the 5th annual race. The fact that the first annual race was in 1909 indicates there were several races by different motor boat clubs over the years.
Motor boat racing continued to be popular into the 1970s, with advances in hydroplanes, larger engines, etc. To learn more about motor boat races like the Albany to New York Marathon, and others around the world, visit www.hydroplanehistory.com.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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