James Millard Padgett

Early Kansas Automobile Racer


James Millard Padgett

St. Louis Republic


James Millard Padgett was born January 21, 1860 at Farmers which was then the largest city in Rowan County, Kentucky.  He was the second of eight children born to James Nelson Padgett (1837-1877) and Sarah Elizabeth Calvert (1842-1902).  He married Lucy D. Prisbey (1863-1916) on April 1, 1883 at Washington in Washington County, Kansas.


In 1886, Padgett and a brother were the editors, proprietors, and founders of The Local News in Clifton, Kansas.  In 1887 Padgett was the editor and publisher of the Washington Republican at Washington, Kansas as well as the editor and publisher of the weekly Clay County Sentinel at Morganville in Clay County, Kansas.  By 1889, he was the editor and publisher of the weekly Politician at Haddam in Washington County, Kansas.  By 1890, he was the editor and his brother, Charles W. Padgett (1871-1903) was the publisher of the weekly Politician at Agra in Phillips County, Kansas.  James Padgett then moved to Phillipsburg, Kansas where he engaged exclusively in job printing for eighteen months.


In the 1891, Padgett moved to Topeka, Kansas but kept his hand in the newspaper business by writing a mostly political column titled “Our Topeka Letter” that was syndicated in newspapers throughout northern Kansas.


On October 29, 1895, Padgett was issued patent #548,654 for a “numbering machine”.


In 1897, James and Lucy Padgett were residing at 927 Quincy Street, Topeka, Kansas.



This photograph of James Millard Padgett and his wife, Lucy, was taken in 1903 and before Padgett opened his automobile dealership.  The car is a Stevens-Duryea equipped with a motor-driven tire pump of Padgett’s own design.  This is probably the same Stevens-Duryea  that Padgett drove to victory in the first automobile race in Kansas which had been run in Topeka the preceding September.  CLICK HERE to see a poor quality picture of Padgett’s Stevens-Duryea as it appeared stripped down for racing – The Horseless Age newsletter


On January 20, 1898, Padgett was issued patent #605,128 for a “flue-stopper”.


In 1900, plans were made to hold the first ever automobile race in Kansas in conjunction with the grand opening of a new city auditorium in Topeka.  It was to be a street race with the course running down Quincy Street and right past the Padgett home.  That event had to be canceled though due to a lack of entries.


Topeka apparently lost out on the honor of holding the first automobile race in Kansas as a pamphlet, published in 1920 celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Wichita Automobile Company, states that a race between two automobiles took place at the annual cattleman’s picnic at a racetrack 1½ miles north of Kingman, Kansas.  The picnic was a three-day affair (August 27-29, 1901) with many types of entertainment presented each day for the thousands of spectators present.  Both autos were apparently 1901 Oldsmobiles owned by the Wichita Automobile Company.  One was driven by George Meredith and the other by George H. Schollenberger (1879-1961), both of Wichita, Kansas.  George Schollenberger, along with his brother, Morris H. Schollenberger (1878-1925), were co-owners of the Wichita Automobile Company while George Meredith appears to have been an employee of the dealership.  The one-mile race was run in 2 minutes, 45 seconds but the name of the winner has yet to be learned.  After the race, several cowboys crowded around the machines to offer attractive odds and sarcastic challenges to race their horses.  Both drivers politely refused as it was obvious there was not a horse on the grounds that was slower than the two automobiles.


Races were scheduled to be run on the half-mile racetrack at the Greenwood County Fair at Iola, Kansas on September 12, 1901.  No automobiles showed up though so the organizer tried to switch to motorcycle racing as a last-minute replacement.  Only one running motorcycle could be located though so the races were canceled.


A three-race program of automobile racing was scheduled on the half-mile dirt racetrack in Central Riverside Park in Wichita, Kansas for Labor Day afternoon, September 1, 1902.  Two qualifying heat races were to be run followed by a six-lap final event.  The races were advertised as being open to all automobiles although the prize posted for winning the final event was only $10 with second place to receive 50 soda fountain coupons at a local drugstore.  Supporting bicycle races and pony races were also on the program to give the crowd a full afternoon of entertainment.  Only one automobile, an Oldsmobile driven by Morris H. Schollenberger, entered though.  Morris' 18-year-old brother, Harvey Schollenberger, told organizers that he would enter his motorcycle (believed to have been a Mitchell Motor-Bicycle) in the event and challenge the automobile to make four laps of the half-mile racetrack before he could run six laps.  The challenge was first accepted but then the organizers changed the terms requiring both vehicles to race for eight laps.  The race took place with the automobile being declared the victor after the motorcycle dropped out with an overheated and slipping drive-belt.


Another automobile race was scheduled as the last event to be run after a program of horse racing at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka on Thursday afternoon, September 11, 1902.  That race was also canceled by mutual agreement after only three cars entered causing the fair board to reduce the posted $50 purse by half.


Dr. Harry E. Lyman D.D.S. in his 16-h.p. Rambler named “The Only Way”.  The only modifications that Lyman made to the car for racing were to remove the top, the side baskets, and the windshield.  CLICK HERE to see a newspaper ad published in 1904 that shows a cut of Lyman’s Rambler in its racing configuration – Dibble collection


The first automobile race, with more than two automobiles entered, took place before 2,500 spectators on the half-mile dirt oval racetrack on the last day of the Kansas State Exposition held at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka on Saturday afternoon, September 13, 1902.  James Padgett led the entire distance in his Stevens-Duryea automobile to win the $25 purse offered by the fair board.  Second place went to Frank H. Petro, a city salesman for the Parkhurst-Davis Mercantile Company driving one of the company's ten new 1902 two-cylinder Smith roadsters.  The other two cars in the race finished one lap behind.  Those were driven by E.W. Benedict, a Topeka realtor driving an unidentified car and George Burghart (1879-1944), a cigar manufacturer and tobacconist driving a single-cylinder, air cooled, 1902 Orient Buckboard.  There was no passing as the four cars circled the racetrack in the same order they got off the starting line.  The following year, Padgett opened a Stevens-Duryea dealership in Topeka in what was known as the Padgett Tire House and that become Topeka’s first automobile agency.


On November 21, 1902, a Topeka city councilman proposed a speed limit for automobiles in Topeka of 6 m.p.h. downtown and 12 m.p.h. in residential areas.  James Padgett was one of seven citizens that addressed the council asking that the speed limit be set higher.  As a result of their efforts, the speed limit was set an 8 m.p.h. downtown and 16 m.p.h. in residential areas.


An article in the April 17, 1904 issue of the Topeka Daily Capital Journal claimed that James Padgett was “no doubt the best authority on automobiles in the state.”


On September 17, 1904, Padgett again entered the races at the Kansas State Exposition.  This time he drove a 4-h.p. Orient Buckboard automobile.  The first race that day was made up of four cars.  Shortly after the race got underway, another Orient Buckboard owned by George Burghart and driven by Eddie Wright was involved in an accident with a 6-hp Oldsmobile driven by L.B. Wyman causing the race to be stopped.  Wyman’s Oldsmobile was undamaged but the Orient Buckboard was through for the day.  When the race resumed, Padgett got a late start but passed a 6-h.p. Smith Veracity driven by Alvah Campbell Nelson (1878-1963) to finish in second place just 30-yards behind winner Wyman in his Oldsmobile.  Wyman had covered the two-mile distance in 5 minutes, 31 seconds and collected $100 for his efforts.


The second race was a three-mile dash for machines of 10-h.p. under.  The contestants were E.E. Butler in a 10-h.p. Oldsmobile; Charles S. Matthews, an expert automobile machinist (who was soon to join James E. Cowdrey (1858-1906) in opening Topeka's first Ford agency), driving a Smith Veracity; James Padgett, this time driving his 7-h.p. Steven-Duryea he had named "Kuropatkin" after the Russian Imperial Minister of War; C.W. Snyder, a banker and financial agent who was driving another Stevens-Duryea, and William L. Taylor who owned a bicycle and auto store, driving a 7-h.p. Rambler.



The front and back of a store coupon printed by the

James M. Padgett Company – Kansas State Historical Society


Before the race began, Taylor withdrew his Rambler for an unknown reason.  Padgett went on to lap the field once and one car twice in the three-mile race taking the $200 prize with a time of 5 minutes, 54 seconds.


The feature event was a five-mile “free-for-all” paying a purse of $300.  Dr. Harry E. Lyman, a Topeka dentist, drove his 16-h.p. Rambler he had named "The Only Way".  D.B. Woodward of Lawrence, Kansas and his brother Chester, a Topeka loan broker, drove their 10-h.p. Franklins called respectively “Red Devil” and “Red Onion”; and James Padgett again drove “Kuropatkin”.


The start was delayed when D.B. Woodward's "Red Devil" ran away with him.  He took a couple of turns around the flag pole before he discovered the proper lever and succeeded in stopping the “Devil Wagon”.


After two or three false starts, the race was finally underway.  Dr. Lyman took the lead and held it for the entire five miles covering the distance in 8 minutes, 23 seconds.  By the end of the race, he had lapped Padgett twice and Chester Woodward once.


There was some misunderstanding among a few of the drivers as to how the purse was to be paid and two drivers even talked of suing the fair management.  The races were run under American Trotting Association rules that allowed the fair management to keep five percent of the posted purse.  Padgett said he was at first surprised when five percent of his purse for winning the three-mile race was withheld, but was later quoted as believing "the fair management awarded the moneys and everything squarely according to the rules."


One of the automobiles entered in these races but did not appear, was a 24-h.p. Columbia XL1 owned by L. E. Meyer who had just moved to Topeka from Chicago.  When he learned the races were to be held, he sent to Chicago to have his automobile rushed to Topeka by rail express.  The door on the express car was not wide enough to accommodate the large roadster though so it had to be shipped via freight on a flatcar and did not arrive in time for the races.


James Padgett was elected president of the Automobile Club of Topeka in 1903 and organized a large caravan of automobiles to drive to the St. Louis World’s Fair in June of 1904.


On the 1905 Kansas State Census, Padgett gave his occupation as “Born Broke.”


On March 21, 1905, Padgett was issued patent #785,633 for a “rubber tire repairer” that used a vulcanizing process.


On July 18, 1905, Padgett was issued patent #794,879 for a “rim and tire” for automobiles.


Chapel of the Chimes

Greenwood Memorial Park Mausoleum

4300 Imperial Avenue

San Diego, California

Dorothy McDonald photo


By 1905, Padgett was the owner of the James M. Padgett Coupon Company located at 831 Kansas Avenue in Topeka.  The business printed coupon books to sell to merchants.


By the end of 1905, Padgett’s Stevens-Duryea dealership had also become the Topeka agency for Pope-Waverly electric automobiles.


On March 13, 1906, James Padgett was issued patent #815,209 for a “vulcanizer”.  Two days later, he was issued automobile license tag number 8 and Lucy was issued license plate number 9 by the City of Topeka for their personal vehicles.  (State auto license tags were not issued by the State of Kansas until 1913.)


On August 13, 1907, James and Lucy Padgett drove their 1906 Smith automobile from Topeka to Denver where they stayed two days before returning home.  They covered 998 miles during their seven day trip crossing five dry riverbeds and opening fifteen pasture gates going each direction just in Colorado alone.


On September 3, 1907, Padgett was issued patent #864,911 for a “vehicle wheel rim”.


On February 23, 1909, Padgett was issued patent #913,043 for an improved “Rubber-tire repairer”.


Sometime around 1912, Padgett moved his coupon printing business to 118 East Seventh Street in Topeka and hired a nephew, Walter Marion Padgett (1886-1970) to manage it for him.  James and Lucy Padgett then moved to 4235 Fifth Street, San Diego, California where James became a “real estate dealer” with the Swayne & Hymer agency.  Lucy passed away in 1916.  James and Lucy had no children.


In 1918, Padgett was sued by a landlord for damaging the reputation of a house that Padgett was using for illegal gambling.  The suite was appealed all the way to the California Supreme Court which ruled in G.M. Pratt vs. J.M. Padgett in 1920 that a landlord was not entitled to collect damages for the loss of the reputation of his property when both parties knew what the property was being used for.


In 1919, Padgett rented a bungalow at 1219 Twenty-Ninth Street in San Diego but for some reason, he actually lived in a tent that he pitched on the roof.  He also rented a garage nearby.


By 1922, Padgett had lost his hearing and retired from the real estate business.  He purchased the Fairview Sanitarium at 4335 Fifth Street in San Diego and announced that the facility would specialize in goat gland operations.  He also invested in drinking fountains he had installed on city sidewalks that required a penny to be deposited in a slot for them to work.  They did not function properly and lost money so he donated them to the City of San Diego.


James Padgett passed away on August 30, 1922 in his rented garage in San Diego from what the coroner ruled was a “gunshot wound to the heart (from the) accidental discharge of shotgun in the hands of the deceased.”  A subsequent police investigation found that Padgett was removing a borrowed fully loaded 12-gauge shotgun from his car when either the trigger or the hammer came in contact with some part on the car and it discharged.  His body was cremated and his ashes interred with Lucy’s in the Greenwood Memorial Park Mausoleum in San Diego.








Thank You:

Ruth Coker, Dorothy McDonald, Verne Shirk and Jim Thurman





J. M. Padgett 

 James M. Padgett