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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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AUTO POLO. Technical World Magazine in March 1913 described the sport as combining "all the dangers and excitement of a bullfight, a football game, and a ride in an aeroplane." A motorsport invented in the United States, the event had rules and equipment similar to equestrian polo using automobiles instead of horses. Popular at fairs, exhibitions and sports venues across the United States and several areas in Europe from 1911 until the late 1920s; it carried the risk of injury and death to the participants and spectators, and expensive damage to vehicles.

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

The first view Dubuque residents may have had of the sport was at the IOWA STATE FAIR in 1914. R. A. Hankinson, a Ford Motor Company representative and the originator of the sport, demonstrated the game with two teams playing under his direction. (1) The event became a regular event at the fair for over a decade.

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

In August, 1915 the sport was displayed four consecutive nights at the DUBUQUE ATHLETIC FIELD. The same drivers who appeared at the state fair in 1914 were featured before they again returned to the fair. (2) The contest featured two cars stripped of everything none-essential. Each car was manned by a driver and a second man who wielded a long mallet used to drive an ordinary basketball across the goal of the opponent. (3) There were five 10-minute periods with little or no delay between them. Enthusiastic promoters suggested that within a couple of years towns would sponsor their own auto polo team and leagues would be formed. (4)

Auto polo returned to Dubuque on August 11, 1916. A reported 1,100 spectators watched the American team defeat the British by a score of 7 to 6. If a car became disabled, a red flag was raised, and a new car was brought into the match to replace it. A report of the evening described the "malletman" hanging on the side of the car with one hand and "hitting the oval as though he were playing a game of croquet." Second and third afternoons and evenings of the sport was held on August 12th and August 13th. (5) Since they had performed in 1915, the players had toured in Japan, China and the Philippines. According to Eugene ADAMS the athletic field committee would receive a percentage of the gate receipts. (6) Although auto polo matches could be found in later years in other places, the sport did not appear to return to Dubuque for many years.

Broken bones, serious internal injuries and even death was not what finally ended the sport. As the Paterson Daily Press declared in 1902, it was the cost of constantly replacing battered vehicles that led to players and sponsors abandoning the sport by the late 1920s. The last exhibit of the sport in Dubuque was held at the Dubuque Sports Bowl at the old airport on CITY ISLAND on June 21-22, 1950 when "championship matches" were held between the U. S. and Great Britain. (7)

Auto Polo YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_d03yVC4z4



1. "Automobile Races at the State Fair," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, September 1, 1914, p. 11

2. "Thrilling Sport Promised Dubuque," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 19, 1915, p. 10

3. "Auto Polo Growing Popular as Sport," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 23, 1913, p. 39

4. Ibid.

5. "Thousands Witness Thrilling Contest," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 13, 1916, p. 10

6. 'Auto Polo Teams Here Next Week," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 4, 1916, p. 2

7. Advertisement. The Telegraph-Herald, June 18, 1950, p. 25