“Auto Polo”: The Ridiculously Dangerous Auto Sport of the Early 1900s

Auto polo was a motorsport invented in the U.S., 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 country and several areas of Europe from 1911 through the late 1920s. It was dangerous and carried the risk of injury and death to the participants and spectators. The game was typically played on a field or open area that was a least 300 feet long and 120 feet wide, with 15-foot-wide goals positioned at each end of the field. The first auto polo cars used were unmodified, light steam-powered Mobile Runabouts that didn’t have tops, doors or windshields and seated only one person The typical cost of a Mobile Runabout was $650 (equivalent to $19,442 today). Cars typically had a seat-belted driver and a malletman who held on to the side of the car and would attempt to hit a regulation-sized basketball toward the goal of the opposing team, with the cars reaching a top speed of 40mph while making hairpin turns. Most of the cars would usually be severely wrecked or demolished by the time the match was finished, leaving most players uninsurable for costly material and bodily damages incurred during the game. The sport waned in popularity during the late 1920s, mostly due to the high cost of replacing the vehicles.