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.
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. 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.
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.”
Auto polo was also first played in New York City inside a regimental armory building in 1908 or 1909. The popularity of the sport increased after its debut in July 1912, 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. Another exhibition was staged the following day at Hilltop Park in New York.