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Auto Polo Matches of the 20th Century

September 14, 2015

Auto Polo was popularized by Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson as stunt to sell more Model T cars in 1911. The sport functions much like Equestrian Polo, similar rules and equipment, but replaces horses with automotives. The first known match, was played in an alfalfa field in Wichita on July 20, 1912. Despite Hankinson being the first person to publicize and orchestrate a game of Auto Polo, the idea itself was proposed as early as 1902 by Joshua Crane Jr, of the Dedham Polo Club in Boston. The idea was poorly received at the time, a local paper commented that it was “not likely to become very popular.” A second attempt at the game was made inside a New York regimental armory building around 1908, but it was Hankinson’s 1912 match that led to an increase in popularity and the founding of multiple leagues around the country. By the 1920s, New York City and Chicago were hosting matches every night of the week.

The Sport spread internationally, but was never met with the same enthusiasm as inside American boarders. Matches were hosted in France, Philippines, England, and even showcased at the Canadian National Exhibition in 1913. One of the factors that led to the growth of Auto Polo was that it required less space than Equestrian Polo and could be played indoors, each team had two cars, and four men, on the ‘field’ – one man to steer, and one to wield the specially weighted crochet mallets that were used to strike the regulation sized basketballs they used. In France, the sport was later played using more substantial Renault cars with stripped down lacrosse sticks used to propel the ball.

Auto Polo waned in popularity during the 1920s due to the cost of replacing and repairing vehicles. A tally of the damages encountered by Hankinson's British and American 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. Despite the high cost of Auto Polo, the sport experienced a brief resurgence after WWII. The following photos show Auto Polo in action from 1902 through to the post WWII era in the US, Canada, and across the Atlantic in France.


Dedham Polo Club, Exhibition Game, 1902

Players in pursuit during 1913, photographed by Colliers magazine

A malletman balances on the side of a moving auto polo car during a match in 1913, photograph by the International News Service

An auto polo match at Coney Island, primitive metal hoops were installed around the driver's seat and radiator to protect the occupants in the event of a rollover, photographed by the Bain News Service. 

A roller over (potentially staged) circa 1910-15, captured by Bain News Service

Coney Island 1910, Bain News Service

Coney Island 1910, Bain News Service

Coney Island 1910, Bain News Service

Coney Island 1910, Bain News Service

An auto polo driver, drives up on an opponents car during a match in Pinehurst, North Carolina, 1920

Americans and Canadian compete in a match in Los Angeles, Sept 4, 1922

Two cars collide at an auto polo match, Fort Myers, FL, 1928

Oct 1, 1952, photo: Toronto Star

Auto polo players in Vincennes, France compete with Renault cars and lacrosse-style racquets, Oct 11, 1956


Vincennes, France, Oct 11, 1956

Vincennes, France, Oct 11, 1956


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