Aug 14 2012

CSI Challenge: How Many People Attended the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup Race?

The CSI (Cup Scene Investigation) Team of has been asked to estimate the number of people who actually attended the six Vanderbilt Cup Races held on Long Island. First up, the 1904 Vanderbilt Cup Race held on a 30.24-mile triangular course in Nassau County and Queens.


Howard Kroplick

1904 Newspaper and Journal Estimates

Attendance estimates for America’s first international road race ranged from 15,000 to 50,000 people, depending on the source. In an article for the October 13, 1904 edition of Motoring & Boating, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. wrote, “I traveled the course twice and judge there must have been over 50,000 people standing at the roadside.” Motor Age acknowledged the wide range of estimates. “Some place it as low as 15,000, estimating the spectators as low as 500 per mile of the circuit. A program man, who sees big crowds and made a circuit of the course that day, puts the number at 50,000, declaring there was hardly a break in the line of spectators and that at each of the controls and towns were crowds numbering up in the thousands.”

1904 Course

Insight into the actual attendance can be gained form the hundreds of photographs taken over the 30.24-mile course. The highest concentation of spectators were at the Westbury start-finish line and grandstand, the Hicksville and Hempstead controls, and turns in Jericho and Queens.

Grandstand/Press Box, Jericho Turnpike, Westbury

By far, the largest crowd gathered at the Westbury grandstand and press box area on Jericho Turnpike

Two wooden stands, one for spectators, the other for press and officials, were completed the week of the event. The spectator grandstand had a capacity for 978 persons with 480 individual seats, and 83 boxes seating six each.The grandstand stretched 200 feet, with a heavy, solid bulwark 4 feet in front of it to protect spectators from errant cars.

Just west of the grandstand, a large crowd stood on both sides of Jericho Turnpike to watch the race.

Sometimes, they walked in the middle of the course.

The best estimate is that 3,500 to 5,000 people watched the race around the grandstand area.

Photographic evidence also suggests that the clusters in the turns and controls ranged between 250 and 500 people. Reports further indicate that there were at least some spectators around the entire perimeter (150 to 200 people per mile).

Jericho Turn, Jericho

Broadway, Hicksville

Massapequa-Hicksville Road, Plainedge

Hempstead Turnpike, Plainedge

Fulton Street, Hempstead

Springfield Boulevard, Queens

Railroad Crossing, Springfield Boulevard, Queens

Jericho Turnpike Turn, Queens

Jericho Turnpike, Floral Park

Typical Crowd Throughout the Course

CSI Report

The total attendance for the 1904 race is further clouded by the fact that it took over seven hours to run, so it is safe to assume that many people came and left throughout the day. Accordingly, a reasonable estimate of the number of people who saw a portion of the 1904 race is between 17,000 and 25,000.

Film "1904 Vanderbilt Cup Race" showing the crowds at the Westbury grandstand and the Massapequa Turn.


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