Little Bits of History

Child’s Play

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 28, 2010

Soap Box Derby racers from yesteryear

December 28, 1973: Akron, Ohio’s Chamber of Commerce terminates its association with the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championship race, stating the race was a “victim of cheating and fraud.” Soap Box Derby is an unpowered race using cars built by the contestants. The race was designed for children.

Myron Scott, a photographer working for a Dayton, Ohio newspaper, was given the assignment of filming some boys racing home made cars. It looked like such fun, that Myron worked to expand the idea. A race was held in Dayton in 1934. The next year, the race moved to Akron because it is a more hilly region. The cars race downhill with gravity as the sole means of power for locomotion.

The original cars were made of orange crates and roller skate wheels. Today’s cars are usually made of wood, but can be constructed of aluminum or fiberglass. The rear wheels are on a fixed axle while the front axle moves to steer, using either the feet or rope to shift the axle’s direction. Speeds of up to 35 mph [55 km/h] can be reached. Brakes are not normal equipment. Today, racers come from across the globe. Qualifying races are held in 38 states and several other countries.

In the 1950s and 60s, Soap Box Derby racing was at its peak. Chevrolet sponsored the World Championship race, TV and movie stars watched along with 70,000 fans. By the 70s and 80s, overeager adults ruined the purity of the child centered race. In 1973, 14-year-old Jimmy Gronen from Boulder, Colorado was stripped of his title two days after the race. His car was x-rayed and found to contain an electromagnet in the nose. This helped accelerate the car when the steel paddle used to start the race pulled it forward. Robert Lange, the boy’s uncle and legal guardian, was a wealthy engineer. He was indicted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

“I think there’s a little child in all of us and we all to often forget to let the child out to play.” – Donna A. Favors

“For truly it is to be noted, that children’s plays are not sports, and should be deemed as their most serious actions.” – Michel de Montaigne

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn’t play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.” – Pablo Neruda

“Men deal with life as children with their play,
Who first misuse, then cast their toys away.” – William Cowperd

Also on this day, in 1612 Galileo first found Neptune hiding among the stars.

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