Prior to the invention of powered flight, what was the fastest vehicle?

What was the fastest a human travelled in a vehicle prior to the invention of powered flight? By including the condition ‘in a vehicle’ I want to disqualify people who fell from great heights and lived, or those sent flying by explosions.

Probably something horsedrawn, eh? Very early automobiles were rather slow.

An express locomotive?

I would think a toboggan.

Check out one of my heroes, Glenn Hammond Curtiss! Some pretty fast motorcycling there… And then, aircraft.

I’d say the Stanley Steamer at 127 MPH in 1906.

Almost certainly it was rail -


In 1903 they were going 130mph - rather faster than the Wright Flyer.

Gravity powered counts?
Rail would be it.

Well, the OP didn’t exclude it.

Sounds that way to me, also. I didn’t realize they had achieved a speed of 130. A toboggan might reach or exceed that speed, but I question the riders living through the ride (or more precisely, living through the end of the ride, which I suspect would tend to be sudden).

Chabrières is a toboggan run which claims the fastest speed on their speed record track was 152mph.

If that’s all they can do in 2003, it seems likely trains were faster in 1903.

I understand the average speed of many train lines in the UK have decreased over the last 100 years due to overcrowding and safety concerns

And here is a photo of the record holder at that time. Very strange train - an electric train using 3-phase power drawn from three overhead wires!

Does anyone know when airplanse surpassed this speed? WWI?

Almost certainly sometime during the Great War, but possibly just before the war started. The air speed record in 1913 was 126.66 mph. The next recorded record was in 1920, at 171.04 mph. Fighter aircraft during the war seem to have topped out at approximately 125 mph, but there were almost certainly experiments which far exceeded combat speeds.

Some sources I’ve seen claim that automobiles remained competitive with aircraft through the 1920s, but that claim doesn’t reveal itself when I compare the air speed records above to this list of land speed records.

An interesting link, with a few dubious claims. Curtiss was certainly not the first man to fly a mile, not even in a heavier-than-air machine. His first such flight was in July 1908; the Wrights first did so in November 1904.

Are we limiting this to land vehicles? What was the top speed of a racing yacht or a clipper ship?

Most sources seem to suggest top speeds approaching 20 knots in ideal conditions, and sustained speeds of around 15 knots with favorable winds - only a fraction of what was possible on land.

It appears that iceboating was reasonably popular prior to 1903, but I haven’t been able to find much info on what speeds were possible 100 years ago (they were probably better than 20 knots).