A day in the life of some ‘auto polo’ players
According to the book Bain’s New York: The City in News Pictures 1900-1925 the idea for playing the traditional game of Polo with automobiles was the brainchild of a Ford from Topeka, Kansas with the snappy name of Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson. Originally Hankinson’s idea was intended to be a way to boost sales of the Ford Model T that the company had started producing in 1908.
Not only did Hankinson’s plan work, it quickly became a hugely popular sporting event in which not only the participants were at risk of injury or death but so were the spectators who flocked to such events. The matches were held across the country and the world, with the very first major auto polo exhibition being held in Washington D.C. in 1912. The outright brutality of the uncompromising sport also meant that cars would have to be routinely replaced since they would often give up the ghost in the middle of a match and because the main attraction of the sport was the very high probability that cars would crash into each other.
In other words auto polo was a bit like the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome only with cars operated by those insane enough to careen them around an arena armed with ball-smashing mallets at 40 miles per hour. So dangerous was the game of auto polo that an actual surgeon was onsite during the matches just in case anyone was injured (which according to most historical resources on the topic was shockingly rare). But deaths on the field did happen and those infrequent occurrences caused the sport to be banned in numerous states despite its rabid fan base. As I was looking through the images I found of matches that were held from 1912 until the early 1920s I noticed a distinct lack of protective equipment worn by the players who would drive the cars without seat belts as they were supposed to jump out of the moving car if it tipped over. Which makes it even more surprising that more of the sports manly participants survived to ride another day which the following mayhemic images in this post will reinforce.
North Carolina, 1920.
Footage from 1915 of a auto polo match in Hibbing, Minnesota (turn down your speakers unless you like the old-timey jams).
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Fearless female motorcycle stunt women take on the ‘Wall of Death’