Headline from the Chicago Daily Tribune, October 28, 1933
Headline from New York Times, October 28, 1933
On October 27, 1933, the first Dymaxion Car was involved in a fatal accident just outside the grounds of the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago.
The American driver of the car, Francis T. Turner, was a famous racing driver, employed by the Gulf Refining Company, that had purchased the car. Two passengers in the car, Colonel William Francis Forbes-Sempill and Charles Dollfuss of Paris, were seriously injured.
Forbes-Sempill and Dollfuss had arrived at the World's Fair on the Graf Zeppelin, and were being rushed to the airport to catch a plane to Akron Ohio where they would meet the Zeppelin for its return trip from New York to Europe.
According to newspaper reports immediately, the accident was caused when the car hit a "wave" in the road. Later, it emerged that the car had been "rubbernecked" by the car of the South Park Commissioner, which had left the scene of the accident afterwards. The public blamed the design of the car for the accident, and some potential investors were scared off. The death of the driver was caused by the canvas top of the car (no. 1) caving in on him.
Later, Fuller described the accident as follows:
But, in England there was a man called, his title was the Master of Semple it was a Scotch title, and he was the greatest aviator in England in those days, and extraordinarily well thought of. When the Graf Zeppelin made a special first trip over to the Chicago World's Fair, and the Master of Semple was invited as the English guest to go on the flight to America, to go to the World's Fair, and the Air Minister of France was on the trip. These two men telephoned me from the Graf Zeppelin over the Atlantic, asking if I could have the Dymaxion Car available for them to see at Chicago with the World's Fair.By this time I let the car go to a man named Al Williams who was the Navy's #1 speed flyer, and left the Navy to become head of gasoline sales for the Gulf Refining. And Al had acquired my first car for the Gulf Company to use at air meets, and it had become the official car at air meets running around the air field. And when this call came I then got in touch with Al Williams, so he had a race driver take the car out to Chicago to meet these two distinguished guests. They, then the car was put at their disposal with this race driver during their visit.
The Graf Zeppelin just dropped them off in Chicago and went back to Akron where it could be moored. The day came a few days later when the word came that the Graf Zeppelin was to return to England and these two guest would have to rejoin in the meantime they had driven the car a lot, and they needed the car to get out to the Chicago Airport in a hurry they called in, so at 7 o'clock in the morning went to their hotel, picked the two men up and started out for the Chicago airport when the next thing I knew there was a NEW YORK TIMES full headline FREAK CAR ROLLS OVER AND KILLS RACE DRIVER AND FAMOUS GUESTS WOUNDED injured and so forth. And I was in Bridgeport, and the Associated Press got in touch with me where I was building my second car at the time no yes, I had just started we were doing the drawings on the second car, and I flew out, and I had an engineer friend in Chicago. I asked him to go and start investigating just as fast as he could. I telephoned him, and I flew out to Chicago, and we found that the car had been removed from this accident.
It had occurred just in front of the main gate of the Chicago World's Fair, and so we found where the car was it had been put in a garage, and we looked it over very carefully, and we couldn't find anything wrong with the steering gear or the but it had rolled over, and you may remember, my looking at this and saying this is crystagon and so forth I had it a convertible, and I had an open top with the buttoned on canvas canvas top on it here, so we could open it up, and it did, the there were race they had a Al Williams as a flyer, had put in flying seat belts into it, and the driver had one of those on. The car had rolled over, and the top had punched in, and he had been killed the Air Minister from France was sitting in the rear seat he didn't have a belt on, and I say this canvass top opened, and he just went out and landed on his feet. The Master of Semple was sitting beside the driver, hurt his head very badly, and he was in the hospital in Chicago in very critical condition. We went to the hospital, and they let me listen to him, so if he were to say anything that would give me any kind of clues what had happened.
While I was sitting waiting, the King of England called up he was a very close friend of his, and it really became very much of an international matter. You can imagine how I was feeling here. My car had killed one man, and another was extraordinarily injured. The Master of Semple did recover thank God! And he, the, they had a coroner's inquest on account of the death of the driver, and the coroner's inquest postponed the coroner postponed the meeting, hoping against the day that the Master of Semple might recover, because he had been driving the car and was familiar with it all, and he might be able to tell them what happened.So it was postponed. Sixty days later they had the continued meeting, at which time the Master of Semple told about then that something that had happened to me very, very frequently as they were coming to it was a ten-lane highway, five lanes on either side, and they had been in the outermost lane and a car tried to rubberneck with them. People were always wanting to look at me, and they tried to ride along beside you and getting the it was a very tortuous feeling, these people were looking at you and they were going to run into something.So he had accelerated to get away from them and came into the second lane, and this man, then, started to rubberneck some more, he began really pestering, so he finally got to the middle lane, and this man tried to pull upside, and the man hit his tail and threw him out of steering.
The precession, incidentally, when you do hit this it turns precessionally. So, the man who owned the other car was the South Park Commissioner it turned out later. And his car had been moved right away. My engineer friend and I had gone to see the policeman who was on the corner at the time it happened, and he didn't know anything about this at all, but later on when it turned out that it had been a collision and not a freak roll over sixty days afterwards, so the coroner simply said, well it was a mutual responsibility some kind of carelessness but no real fault of anybody. At any rate, it was not the car. But my car got an enormous kind of a blow. Al Williams, as I said, had been one of the leading Navy fliers, and he said "Bucky your car is in no way responsible, so you've really got a great obligation to society to let society know it isn't the car." We couldn't get hardly any publicity about it there is no news like that
(excerpt from the Everything I know tapes. Source: www.bfi.org)
Site created by Michael John Gorman. Updated March 12, 2002, 12.17PM