Fast and Furious Motorcycle Forefather Glenn Curtiss Honored This Weekend
The Glenn Curtiss Museum is hosting a motorcycle nostalgia event this weekend, Saturday Feb. 25 and Sunday Feb. 26, and if you love motorcycles and don’t know anything about Glenn Curtiss, you’re missing the boat (as it were) on one of the greatest daredevils and engineers in American history.
The show features more than 60 vintage motorcycles including an exact reproduction of the motorcycle Curtiss rode in his 1907 World Record run which earned him the title of The Fastest Man on Earth.
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was born in Hammondsport, NY, in 1878. An insatiable curiosity, keen mechanical ability, fearlessness and ambition led Curtiss on a quest for speed which reached obsessive levels. A champion bicycle racer, Curtiss and his partner, June Bugand, were building their own machines.
In 1902 Curtiss began manufacturing motorcycles with single-cylinder engines of his own design. The first of these featured a carburetor made from a tomato soup can which held a gauze screen which pulled gasoline into the motor using capillary action.
In 1903, Curtiss set the first of his motorcycle land speed records when he achieved a top speed of 64 mph over a measured mile. As a result of that run, E.H. Corson of the Indian Motorcycle Company paid a visit to Curtiss’ shop and was startled to find that the entire operation was located in the back room of what was essentially a shed. Corson was dismayed to find such a humble setup as the man who owned it built bikes capable of smashing his production models during the “Hell Rider” endurance race from New York to Cambridge, Maryland.
By 1902 Curtiss was manufacturing motorcycles under the trade name “Hercules,” and it was a later version of one of those machines that Curtiss made a measured-mile run at Ormond Beach, Florida, on Jan. 23, 1907 on his V8 powered bike. That run was officially clocked at 136.3 mph, and it made him The Fastest Man on Earth, at least according to the newspapers of the day. Curtiss set an unofficial world record of 136.36 mph on a 40 horsepower 4000 cc V8 powered motorcycle of his own design and construction, and that motorcycle speed record was not broken until 1930 and the bike he rode to glory is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
But Curtiss was famous for more than just his prowess building and riding motorcycles.
Curtiss’s first experience with aviation came after balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin ordered one of Curtiss’s powerful V-twin motorcycle engines to power an air ship. When the engine proved successful, he began a career as an aviation pioneer.
Curtiss’s career was tragically cut short on July 23, 1930.
At age 52 while undergoing surgery for appendicitis in Buffalo, NY, Curtiss suffered a blood clot which ended his life. Glenn Hammond Curtiss is buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, not far from the site of his historic flight. He is remembered today as the Father of Naval Aviation and the founder of the American aircraft industry and a hero of motorcycle design, racing and manufacturing.
The Curtiss Museum exhibits a truly excellent and varied collection of vintage motorcycles and antique motorcycles. More than half of the motorcycle collection pre-dates WWI. Of special interest is an exact reproduction of Curtiss’s 1907 World Record V8 Motorcycle (136.4 mph). Another interesting bike is the 1915 Williams “Clady’s Model” that sports a three-cylinder rotary engine fixed to the rear wheel.
The museum is located at 8419 State Route 54, Hammondsport, N.Y., and you can find information at the museum website at www.glennhcurtissmuseum.org. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Cost for the event is $6 for both days.