Investigating the origin of the English-language term “Gordon Bennett”, once commonly used as an expression of surprise, I came to the conclusion that there does not seem to be a definitive explanation. Various theories abound.
What is certain is that a motor car race held in Ireland in 1903, and a hot-air balloon race first held in 1906, was named after a certain Gordon Bennett.
In tracing the origins of Gordon Bennett, I discovered that there were two famous Gordon Bennetts who might have been the source.
James Gordon Bennett Senior was a Scottish-born journalist, who gained fame in the United States for founding the New York Herald newspaper.
His son, James Gordon Bennett Junior, was more interested in fast cars, planes and women.
He was generally known as Gordon Bennett to distinguish him from his father. He organised both the first polo match and the first tennis match in the United States and he personally won the first trans-Atlantic Ocean yacht race. He sponsored explorers – including Henry Morton Stanley’s trip to Africa to find David Livingstone, and an ill-fated American attempt to reach the North Pole.
He also sponsored the Gordon Bennett Cup in motor racing from 1900 to 1905.
In 1903 the Gordon Bennett motor race was the first international motor race held in Ireland. Four countries were represented in the race – Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States – each country having three competing cars. The automobiles used by Germany were manufactured by Mercedes while the French had Panhard and Mors. GB drove Napiers, the US Wintons and Peerless. Only five cars finished the race but the fifth (British) was disqualified. The winning Mercedes was driven by a Belgian, Camille Jenatzy.
The stamps above were issued in 2003 by Eire to commemorate the centenary of that race.
The hot-air balloon race established in 1906 is still held today. The stamps below from Poland, 1936, were overprinted “Gordon Bennett 30. VIII. 1936”