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Iowa History Daily: August 16 - Debut of the Mason Automobile

Iowa History Daily: On August 16, 1906, the Mason Automobile Company debuted their first car. Financed by Des Moines lawyer Edward R. Mason and built by Fred and August Duesenberg, the car gained fame by climbing the west steps of the Iowa State Capitol.

Edward R. Mason, a descendant of the famed inn keepers of Bentonsport, Iowa, who ran an underground railroad stop along the Des Moines River at the Mason House Inn, served as a clerk for the United States Circuit Court before settling in Des Moines. After meeting Fred Duesenberg, the two men struck up a partnership focused on making cars in a blacksmith shop located at 915 Grand Avenue in Des Moines.

Born in Germany, the Duesenberg boys immigrated to Rockford in North Iowa with their mother following the death of their father. As the bicycle craze took America by storm in the 1890s, Fred opened up a bike shop in Rockford. A few years later Augie opened a shop of his own in Garner. After experiments attaching gasoline engines to bicycles made them creators of some of the first motorcycles, the boys moved to Des Moines in 1905 to capitalize on a $25,000 investment from Mason.

The Duesenberg brothers started work on their first car. By August of 1906 the Mason “Old Number One” rolled out of their shop 24-horsepower, 5 cylinder engine. The cars came to be known as “Mason Hill Climbers” after awing crowds with spectacular exhibitions including driving a prototype up the west steps of the Iowa State Capitol grounds in May of 1906. The first car cost $1,350 for eager Iowans hoping to hit the road.

Newton’s Fred L. Maytag purchased 60% of the company from Mason in 1910 to form the Mason-Maytag Motor Company. After relocating the operations to Waterloo, the Duesenberg brothers designed four-cylinder engines until Maytag decided to divest in order to try a new venture in the manufacture of washing machines.


Ready to strike out on their own, the Duesenberg brothers moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and started the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company. The company went on to incredible success under the visionary direction of Fred and Augie. Credited with popularizing innovations including the straight-eight engine and hydraulic brakes, a Duesenberg became the first American car to win the French Grand Prix in 1921 before taking home the Indianapolis 500 three times in the 1920s. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD


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