Auto Polo or automobile polo was basically horseback polo but replace the horse with horse power. This “lunatic game” was popularized by an car salesman named Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson as a publicity stunt for Ford cars.
One of the earliest Auto Polo matches took place in 1902, when polo player Joshua Crane Jr. swung at balls with a mallet – while steering a car with the other hand!
“If you don’t die of fright, you’ll laugh yourself to death, “ a fan told the Miami News in 1924. “..If you have a weak heart and cannot stand excitement, Auto Polo is a good sport to stay away from.”
The Auto Polo field was usually about 300 feet long by 120 wide, with 2 goal areas marked by stakes driven into the ground 15 feet apart at each end. The aim of the game was to dribble your ball past your four-wheeled opponent and wallop it home.
Often, a driver’s strategy on entering the field was to ignore the ball and ram their opponents to flip them over. The unfortunate referee had to dodge vehicles on foot while calling time to allow vehicles to untangle themselves or for the mallet man to reclaim his seat after being ejected.
In 1913, a team from Wichita played for King George. What did he make of the upgrade to the “Game of Kings”? Unfortunately, one does not know. What we do know is that auto polo was so successful that the Wichita team continued on a 2 week tour of Europe. “The Auto” magazine reported that the new sport was ”very impressive” – and hoped it wouldn’t catch on in Britain.
Ralph Hankinson’s team in 1924 reported 538 burst tires, 66 broken axles, 1, 564 broken wheels, 10 cracked engines and 6 cars totally destroyed. The game was so catastrophic that Hankinson patented the first roll bar on the back of the vehicle to prevent players being crushed. Even LLoyds of London wouldn’t insure auto polo players.
By the 1903’s, enthusiasm for the sport had waned, probably due to its ridiculously high cost (to human and car), but also competition from new novelty sports like Auto Rodeo, in which cowboys lassoed and rounded up steers from motor cars.
Perhaps Auto Polo was the inspiration for MarioKart?
Images from Library of Congress on Flickr
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Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.