Auto polo

Last updated
Auto polo match in the 1910s at Hilltop Park in New York. Malletmen were often thrown from the cars during matches. Auto polo crop1.jpg
Auto polo match in the 1910s at Hilltop Park in New York. Malletmen were often thrown from the cars during matches.

Automobile polo or auto polo was a motorsport invented in the United States with rules and equipment similar to equestrian polo but using automobiles instead of horses. The sport was popular at fairs, exhibitions and sports venues across the United States and several areas in Europe from 1911 until the late 1920s; it was, however, dangerous and carried the risk of injury and death to the participants and spectators, and expensive damage to vehicles. [1]



The official inventor of auto polo is purported to be Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson, a Ford automobile dealer from Topeka who devised the sport as a publicity stunt in 1911 to sell Model T cars. [2] The reported "first" game of auto polo occurred in an alfalfa field in Wichita on July 20, 1912, using four cars and eight players (dubbed the "Red Devils" and the "Gray Ghosts") and was witnessed by 5,000 people. [3] [4] While Hankinson is credited with the first widely publicized match and early promotion of the sport, the concept of auto polo is older and was proposed as early as 1902 by Joshua Crane Jr. of the Dedham Polo Club in Boston, with the Patterson Daily Press noting at the time of Crane's exhibition that the sport was "not likely to become very popular." [5] Auto polo was also first played in New York City inside a regimental armory building in 1908 or 1909. [6] The popularity of the sport increased after its debut in July 1912, [2] with multiple auto polo leagues founded across the country under the guidance of the Auto Polo Association. The first large-scale exhibition of auto polo in the eastern United States was held on November 22, 1912, at League Stadium in Washington, D.C. [2] Another exhibition was staged the following day at Hilltop Park in New York.[Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 24, 1912, p. 14] By the 1920s, New York City and Chicago were the principal cities for auto polo in the United States with auto polo matches occurring every night of the week. [6] In New York, matches were held at Madison Square Garden and Coney Island. [2]

Internationally, auto polo was regarded with skepticism and caution. In 1912, the British motoring publication The Auto described the new sport as "very impressive" and a "lunatic game" that the writers hoped would not become popular in Britain. [7] Hankinson himself promoted auto polo in Manila in the 1910s with events sponsored by Texaco [8] and recruited teams in the United Kingdom. Auto polo was further spread to Europe by auto polo teams from Wichita that toured Europe in the summer of 1913 to promote the sport. [9] In Toronto in 1913, auto polo became the first motorsport to be showcased at the Canadian National Exhibition, but the sport did not become popular in Canada. [10]

Rules and equipment

The Dedham Polo Club first used Mobile Runabouts for their exhibition game in 1902. Dedham Polo Club auto polo in 1902.jpg
The Dedham Polo Club first used Mobile Runabouts for their exhibition game in 1902.

Unlike equestrian polo which requires large, open fields that can accommodate up to eight horses at a time, auto polo could be played in smaller, covered arenas during wintertime, a factor that greatly increased its popularity in the northern United States. [6] The game was typically played on a field or open area that was a least 300 feet (91 m) long and 120 feet (37 m) wide with 15-foot (4.6 m) wide goals positioned at each end of the field. [6] The game was played in two halves (chukkars) and each team had two cars and four men in play on the field at a given time. [11] The first auto polo cars used by the Dedham Polo Club were unmodified, light steam-powered Mobile Runabouts that seated only one person [12] and cost $650 (equivalent to $19,442 today). [13] As the sport progressed, auto polo cars resembled stripped down Model Ts [10] and usually did not have tops, doors or windshields, with later incarnations sometimes outfitted with primitive rollbars to protect the occupants. Cars typically had a seat-belted driver and a malletman that held on to the side of the car [10] and would attempt to hit a regulation-sized basketball toward the goal of the opposing team with the cars reaching a top speed of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) and while making hairpin turns. [6] The mallets were shaped like croquet mallets but had a three-pound head to prevent "backfire" when striking the ball at high speeds. [4]

Safety and damage concerns

Due to the nature of the sport, cars would often collide with each other and become entangled, with malletmen frequently thrown from the cars. Installation of rollcages over the radiator and rear platforms of the cars helped prevent injuries to players, but falls did result in severe cuts and sometimes broken bones if players were run over by the cars, [11] though deaths due to auto polo were rare. [14] Most of the cars would usually be severely wrecked or demolished by the time the match was finished, [11] leaving most players uninsurable for costly material and bodily damages incurred during the game. A tally of the damages encountered by Hankinson's British and American auto polo teams in 1924 revealed 1564 broken wheels, 538 burst tires, 66 broken axles, 10 cracked engines and six cars completely destroyed during the course of the year. [15] The sport waned in popularity during the late 1920s, mostly due to the high cost of replacing vehicles, [2] but did have a brief resurgence in the Midwestern United States after World War II. [16]

Moto polo

A recent variant of auto polo played with motorcycles, called "moto polo", was developed in Rwanda in 2008 by Sam and James Dargan. The game is played in 15-minute quarters with five players per team using mallets to hit a ball made of banana leaves. The sport has few definite rules beyond "motorcyclists cannot use their feet to kick the ball" and "players cannot stick objects into motorcycle wheels". [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Polo Equestrian team sport

Polo is a horseback ball game, a traditional field sport and one of the world's oldest known team sports. The game is played by two opposing teams with the objective of scoring using a long-handled wooden mallet to hit a small hard ball through the opposing team's goal. Each team has four mounted riders, and the game usually lasts one to two hours, divided into periods called chukkas or "chukkers".

Polo Grounds Sports venue in Manhattan, demolished 1963

The Polo Grounds was the name of three stadiums in Upper Manhattan, New York City, used mainly for professional baseball and American football from 1880 through 1963. The original Polo Grounds, opened in 1876 and demolished in 1889, was built for the sport of polo. Bound on the south and north by 110th and 112th Streets and on the east and west by Fifth and Sixth (Lenox) Avenues, just north of Central Park, it was converted to a baseball stadium when leased by the New York Metropolitans in 1880. The fourth Polo Grounds is the one generally indicated when the Polo Grounds is referenced. That is, the third Polo Grounds, built in 1890, as renovated after a fire in 1911. It was located in Coogan's Hollow and was noted for its distinctive bathtub shape, very short distances to the left and right field walls, and an unusually deep center field.

Hilltop Park New York City baseball venue

Hilltop Park was the nickname of a baseball park that stood in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. It was the home of the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball from 1903 to 1912, when they were known as the "Highlanders". It was also the temporary home of the New York Giants during a two-month period in 1911 while the Polo Grounds was being rebuilt after a fire.


Polocrosse is a team sport that is a combination of polo and lacrosse. It is played outside, on a field, on horseback. Each rider uses a cane or fibreglass stick to which is attached a racquet head with a loose, thread net, in which the ball is carried. The ball is made of sponge rubber and is approximately four inches across. The objective is to score goals by throwing the ball between the opposing team's goal posts.

Exhibition game Sporting event wherein the result has no external impact

An exhibition game is a sporting event whose prize money and impact on the player's or the team's rankings is either zero or otherwise greatly reduced. In team sports, matches of this type are often used to help coaches and managers select and condition players for the competitive matches of a league season or tournament. If the players usually play in different teams in other leagues, exhibition games offer an opportunity for the players to learn to work with each other. The games can be held between separate teams or between parts of the same team.

Cycle polo Team sport originating in Ireland; related to polo but played on bicycles

Cycle polo is a team sport, similar to traditional polo, except that bicycles are used instead of horses. There are two versions of the sport: grass and Hardcourt Bike Polo. The hardcourt game saw a sharp spike in interest in the first decade of the 21st century and new teams are sprouting up across the world in China, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, France, India, Germany, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Hungary, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, England, Scotland, Argentina, Italy, Spain, USA, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Nepal, Brazil and Cuba.

Robert Wrenn American tennis player

Robert Duffield Wrenn was an American left-handed tennis player, four-time U.S. singles championship winner, and one of the first inductees in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Freddie Guest

Frederick Edward "Freddie" Guest, was a British politician best known for being Chief Whip of Prime Minister David Lloyd George's Coalition Liberal Party, 1917–1921. He was also Secretary of State for Air between 1921 and 1922. He won the bronze medal with the British polo team in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Rube Benton American baseball player

John Cleave "Rube" Benton was a pitcher for Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants (1915–21). He pitched in the minor leagues for the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association through 1933. Benton, who had survived serious automobile accidents in 1913 and 1930, was killed in another auto accident in 1937.

John T. Brush American baseball executive

John Tomlinson Brush was an American sports executive who is primarily remembered as the principal owner of the New York Giants franchise in Major League Baseball from late in the 1902 season until his death following the 1912 season. He also owned the Indianapolis Hoosiers in the late 1880s, followed by ownership of the Cincinnati Reds for a decade.

George Grantham Bain American photographer and journalist

George Grantham Bain was a New York City photographer. He was known as "the father of foreign photographic news".

Foxhall P. Keene American thoroughbred race horse owner

Foxhall Parker Keene was an American thoroughbred race horse owner and breeder, a world and Olympic gold medallist in polo and an amateur tennis player. He was rated the best all-around polo player in the United States for eight consecutive years, a golfer who competed in the U.S. Open, and a pioneer racecar driver who vied for the Gordon Bennett Cup. In addition to his substantial involvement in flat racing, he was also a founding member of the National Steeplechase Association.

1913 New York Yankees season Major League Baseball season

The 1913 New York Yankees season was the club's eleventh in New York and thirteenth overall. This was their first season exclusively using the "Yankees" name. The team finished with a record of 57–94, coming in 7th place in the American League. The team also moved into the Polo Grounds which they would share with the New York Giants until 1923.

Cowboy polo is a variation of polo played mostly in the western United States. Like regular polo, it is played in chukkas (periods) with two teams on horses who use mallets to hit a ball through a goal. It differs from traditional polo in that five riders make up a team instead of four, western saddles and equipment are used, and the playing field is usually a simple rodeo arena or other enclosed dirt area, indoors or out. Also, instead of the small ball used in traditional polo, the players use a large red rubber medicine ball and use mallets with long fiberglass shafts and hard rubber heads.

International Polo Cup

The International Polo Cup, also called the Newport Cup and the Westchester Cup, is a trophy in polo that was created in 1876 and was played for by teams from the United States and United Kingdom. The match has varied in length over the years from a single game to the best of three games. In 1886 the two nations decided to make the polo match a continuing competition. A total of 12 matches were conducted between 1886 and 1939 between the two countries. The tournament was suspended during World War II and, due to changing times and interests, not revived until 1992. The last match was held on July 28, 2013 at Guards Polo Club.

The United States Polo Association (USPA) is the national governing body for the sport of polo in the United States.

Monte Waterbury

James Montaudevert "Monte" Waterbury, Jr. was an American businessman and a 10-goal polo handicap player. Together with his brother Lawrence Waterbury, Harry Payne Whitney and Devereaux Milburn, known collectively as the "Big Four," he competed and won the 1909 International Polo Cup.

Hobby horse polo is a mixed team sport played on hobby horses. It is similar to other polo variants, such as canoe polo, cycle polo, camel polo, elephant polo, golfcart polo, Segway polo, auto polo, and yak polo in that it uses the basic polo rules, but it has its own specialities.

Sociedad Sportiva Argentina

The Sociedad Sportiva Argentina was an Argentine multi-sports club sited in Buenos Aires. The headquarters were located in Florida street nº 183 while the stadium was sited in Palermo, next to Hipódromo Argentino. Originally established in 1899 under the name "Sociedad Hípica Argentina" for the practise of equestrian activities, the Sociedad Sportiva would held a large variety of sport events in several disciplines, such as football, athletics, auto racing, aviation, aerostatics, aeronautics, boxing, bicycle racing, motorcycle racing, polo, rugby union, trot, sulky races, show jumping, among others.


  1. Edward Brooke-Hitching. Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling, and Other Forgotten Sports, p.12. Simon and Schuster, 2015. ISBN   978-1-4711-4899-6
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Carlebach, Michael (2011). Bain's New York: The City in News Pictures 1900-1925. New York: Courier. p. 143. ISBN   9780486478586.
  3. Staff (July 21, 1912). "Automobile Polo Game". New York Times.
  4. 1 2 Morrison, R.H. (1913). "Playing polo in autos". Illustrated World. 19: 103.
  5. Staff (18 July 1902). "Auto polo latest fad". Patterson Daily Press. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Perry, Ralph (July 3, 1924). "Miami's new sport will provide thrills for fans". The Miami News. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  7. Staff (January 1913). "Britains fear auto polo". Automobile Topics. 28: 608.
  8. Texas Company (November 1915). "Texas Star". The Texaco Star. 3: 31.
  9. Staff (May 3, 1913). "Auto polo for Europeans". Lawrence Journal World. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  10. 1 2 3 Dinka, Nicholas (August 2005). "Auto Pilots". Toronto Life. 39 (8).
  11. 1 2 3 Staff (October 1929). "Auto Polo". The Billboard. 41 (40): 65.
  12. Inkersley, Arthur (August 1902). "Auto polo". Western Field: The Sportsman's Magazine of the West. 1: 401–402.
  13. "The Mobile Company's lightest carriage". The Cosmopolitan. 33: 793. October 1902.
  14. Staff (September 21, 1922). ""Play to win" is slogan of auto poloists". The Southeast Missourian. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  15. Staff (Sep 2, 1925). "AUTO POLO COSTLY AND HAZARDOUS: Even Lloyds Won't Insure Players". The Hartford Courant. p. 2.
  16. Staff (May 27, 1949). "Photograph". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  17. Kron, Josh (May 8, 2012). "A Lot Like Polo, Only Faster and With Beer". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2012.