From Ohio History Central
This photograph shows the Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, ca. 1945-1960.
The Soap Box Derby had its origins during the 1930s. Children in Dayton, Ohio, manufactured their own cars. They would build these cars from discarded lumber and other items and then race the autos down hills in the community. The cars were not powered by gasoline or any other type of fuel. The cars simply rolled down the hill with a child inside. The winner was the child that reached the bottom of the hill first.
Myron Scott, a Dayton reporter, covered one of these races. He decided that children across the United States could enjoy this activity, and he began to promote it across the country. In 1934, Dayton held the first "All-American Race," where soap box racers from across the country brought their creations to race. The following year, the race moved to Akron, Ohio, due to its hillier terrain. Since 1935, the All-American Soap Box Derby has taken place in Akron. In 1936, Akron city officials decided to build a permanent facility for the race. With the assistance of the Works Progress Administration, one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal programs, the city completed Derby Downs, a soap box racetrack. Thousands of children from across the United States and from other nations have come to race their creations at Derby Downs every year since the track's completion. The only exception to this was during World War II, when many activities, including soap box derbies, came to a halt so that people could concentrate on the war effort. Today, children compete for college scholarships in addition to other prizes.