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Highlights Archives

Museum Showcases Soap Box Derby History


Two racers speed away from the starting ramp at the Soap Box Derby held on Madison's East Washington Avenue starting at the Wisconsin State Capitol, July 24, 1955
WHI 36435

"Zoom! Whiz! Wow! A High-Speed History of Madison's Soap Box Derby" opens Saturday, June 26, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. The museum, at the corner of Carroll, State and Mifflin streets on Madison's Capitol Square, stands not far from the starting line of the 1955, '56 and '57 derby races — at the top of East Washington Avenue. That was when the soap box derby phenomenon was in its heyday, when newspapers sponsored the local races and Chevrolet the national one.

Winning Soap Box Derby Cars and Other Mementos on Display

Beginning in 1936 Madison boys designed, built and raced their own cars, hoping to win a trip to Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. To win, they created cars out of leftover wood, scrap metal, chicken wire, even ironing boards. A few of these unique cars will be on display in "Zoom! Whiz! Wow!" including the winning vehicles from the 1936 and 1957 Madison races that went on to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron.

Visitors will not only learn the derby's history, but experience derby day through photographs and mementos. They will also follow Van Steiner, a 15-year-old boy from Argyle, Wisconsin, and the 1957 Madison winner, on his trip to Akron. His treasures, memories and souvenirs from this event will be a part of the exhibit, including film footage of his race day at Derby Downs.

Meet the Champs

Although past its heyday, the derby continues and derby racers are still making memories. "Zoom! Whiz! Wow!" ends by looking at more recent years and features the first Madison-area driver to win at Akron, 11-year-old Maija Liimatainen, including her winning car. On Tuesday, July 27, she and five other derby champions will be on hand at the museum for an event called "Meet the Champs."

If You Go

For complete details on the museum's location, admission policy, parking and bus routes, visit the museum's visitor information section. After seeing this exhibit we hope you catch the exhilaration, the joy and the delight of the soap box derby boys and girls, past and present.

:: Posted June 25, 2010

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