PEOPLE: JAMES GORDON BENNETT JR.
Name: James Gordon Bennett Jr.
Nationality: United States of America
The flamboyant benefactor of early international automobile racing, Gordon Bennett inherited a huge newspaper empire based on the New York Herald, which his father James Sr., a Scottish-born immigrant, had established in 1835. When he took over after the death of his father in 1872, he was 31 and keen to spread the family firm aboard. Initially he funded the activities of roving reporters around the world, including Henry Stanley, who was sent to Africa in 1869 to find Dr. David Livingstone. Having succeeded in this task, Stanley was given more funding by Gordon Bennett in 1874 to cross Africa from Zanzibar to the mouth of the Congo River. This was a great success.
Having assisted in the opening up of Africa, Gordon Bennett concentrated on building up the newspaper empire and, after being ejected from New York Society for having urinated in a fireplace while visiting his fiancee, he settled in Paris where in 1887 he established the Paris Herald. He lived an extravagant lifestyle, building a vast villa at Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the Cote d'Azur and sponsoring a series of transport-related competitions, including bicycle, motorboat, yacht and balloon races. In 1899 he announced an International Cup for automobile racing and a 17kg silver trophy was designed.
There were six events between 1900 and 1905 which played an important role in the development of international motor racing. The International Automobile Federation, for example, came about as a result of a meeting of national clubs at the Gordon Bennett race in Bad Homberg in Germany in 1904.
The competition was abandoned in 1906 when the Automobile Club de France decided to host its own "Grand Prix".
Gordon Bennett's interest then turned to aviation and he established a new trophy for air races, the first in 1909 being won by the American Glenn Curtis, who beat Louis Bleriot in a contest at Reims. Gordon Bennett died in 1918 but the air race was briefly revived in the 1920s.
After his death the Gordon Bennett Family decided to sell its newspapers. The New York Herald ultimately merged with the Tribune to form the Herald Tribune, while the Paris Herald lives on as the International Herald Tribune.