May 26 2018

Correcting the Vanderbilt Cup Race Record of Washington Augustus Roebling II

Tom Gibson has noted that many historic websites incorrectly state that Washington A. Roebling II finished in second place in the 1910 or 1911 Vanderbilt Cup Race in Savannah, Georgia. Let's clear up Roebling's driving record.

Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend,

Howard Kroplick

Washington Roebling II and the Vanderbilt Cup Races

The historical error likely dates back to a 1912 obituary for Roebling when he was tragically lost at sea with the Titanic.

Enclycopedia Titanica: Washington A. Roebling, II, at the wheel of the specially built Roebling Planche racer, which, after having been designed and built under the direction of young Roebling, was entered and driven by him in the Vanderbilt Cup Race at Savannah two years ago...

While at the Mercer plant he designed and built his Roebling-Planche racing car, finishing in second place in the Vanderbilt Cup Race in Savannah, Georgia in 1910. He later designed racecars at the Walter Automobile plant and won second place in the Vanderbilt Cup Race with his Roebling-Planche racecar in 1910.  In 1911, driving his Planche Racer, Roebling attended and finished second in the Great Savannah Race, also called the Vanderbuilt (sic) Cup. at the Mercer plant he designed and built his Roebling-Planche racing car, finishing in second place in the Vanderbilt Cup Race in Savannah, Georgia in 1910.

Washington Roebling II never drove in a Vanderbilt Cup Race or an American Grand Prize Race. He did finish second in his #33 Mercer at  the Savannah Trophy Race for "light cars" on November 11, 1911.  His #1 Planche-Roebling was entered the next day for the American Grand Prize but did not start.

Profile of Washington Roebling II Source: Roebling Museum, Trenton, New Jersey

Washington A. Roebling II was the third of four children born to Charles G. Roebling and Sarah Ormsby on March 25, 1881. Named after his paternal uncle, Washington A. Roebling, Charles’s son quickly became known as “Washy” to the rest of the family. Washington graduated from the State Model School in Trenton, New Jersey, as well as the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania where he also played football.
After graduation Washington, following in his father and uncles’ footsteps, and joined the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company around 1900. During his time working for the family business, Washington developed a passion for automobiles and racing. His interest in automobiles transformed into a business when the Roeblings, along with the Kuser brothers of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, paid for the William Walter’s Automobile Company to be moved to the vacant Kuser Brewery in Hamilton Township, New Jersey in 1906. While holding the position of secretary for the Walter’s Automobile Company, Washington also collaborated with the French automobile designer, Etienne Planche, to construct a race-car was named the Roebling-Planche and sold by the Walter’s Automobile Company.

In June of 1909, the Walter Automobile Company filed for bankruptcy. The Roeblings and Kusers acquired what assets where left of the company and invested them into the Mercer Automobile Company that manufactured cars that were safe for and made for individual citizens to drive at their own leisure. Washington continued his love of automobiles and pursued his interest in racing. He began racing Mercer models before they were put on the market to ensure they were safe and well-built.

In 1911, a thirty- year- old Washington made plans for a motoring tour around Europe with family friend Stephen Blackwell, son of the former U.S. Senator Jonathon Blackwell. The final stop of the tour, Southampton, England, was reached in April of 1912. Washington and Blackwell planned to return home aboard a newly constructed ship, the Titanic. Within a week of its departure, on the historic night of April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Washington worked calmly and diligently to help the women and children on board the sinking ship into lifeboats and on to safety. A Ms. Caroline Bonnell was one of the many women aided by Washington that tragic night. She later told the Roebling family and reporters that the last words she heard from Mr. Washington A. Roebling II was, “You will be back with us on the ship soon again” as he waved to her from the deck of the sinking ship with a smile.

Members of the Roebling family traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to meet ships carrying victims of the Titanic, however; Washington’s body was never recovered. Despite Washington A. Roebling II’s tragic death at the young age of thirty-one, his contributions to the Mercer Automobile Company and his heroic acts aboard the Titanic have become part of the Roebling family’s famous legacy.

1910 Savannah Trophy Race, November 11, 1910

Courtesy of

Plance-Roebling Racer

Courtesy of


May 26 2018 Brian D McCarthy 10:16 PM

Mr. Roeblings assistance in guiding passengers to safety was alike to Mr. Vanderbilt’s actions on the Lusitania. Real courage in the face of tragedy.

May 27 2018 Ken Payne 10:54 AM

Howard - In your last paragraph before the profile, you give his winning date as November 11, 1911. Since the prior error was copied for years, you don’t want a typo to start a new sequence of errors. As always, I enjoy your Sunday posts. Ken
Howard Kroplick
Ken, good catch. Copy has been corrected.

May 28 2018 Greg O. 11:20 PM

I love when 2 historic ‘loves’ collide. My whole life (at least since 9 years old) I have been fascinated by the Brooklyn Bridges’ story and it’s history. Learning Washington Roeblings’  nephew’s association with the Vanderbilt Cup Races is my nirvana!

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