Glenn Curtiss. 1878-1930.

Glenn Curtiss, born in 1878 in Hammondsport, NY, was already building bicycles when he reached his teens and became very fast a famous speed bicycle racer. Logically, he got interested by more speed and in 1902 started his own motorcycle manufacturing company, originally under the brand name of “Hercules”. His machines were the only ones really able to challenge Indian and were the first ones to use a handlebar throttle for acceleration. In January 1907 in Ormond Beach, Florida, (top picture) Glenn Curtiss became the fastest man on earth with a land speed record of 136.3 mph (216 km/h), a record never homologated because he was unable to do a return  due to damage to his frame.

In 1904 a two-cylinder, V-type engine-believed to be the first Curtiss aircraft engine-was modified to power Capt. Thomas S. Baldwin’s California Arrow. In 1905 the twin-cylinder motorcycle engine was developed into a more powerful airship engine, designated A-2, which powered many early American dirigibles.

In 1912, under an agreement with the Marvel company, the Curtiss Marvel was offered with an overhead valve 500cc engine used as a stress member of the frame. The same year, Glenn Curtiss left the motorcycle business to devote all his time and talent to aeronautics where he became even more famous by making the first officially witnessed flight in North America, winning a race at the world’s first international air meet in France, and making the first long-distance flight in the U.S.

19 Responses to “Glenn Curtiss. 1878-1930.”

  1. 1 DUHL Jun 30th, 2011 at 10:16 am

    This man was a perfect example of what made this country so great, for awhile anyway. there were many like him, but few as prolific. I am so inspired by this type of spirit, I wish we could re kindle a fraction of it
    and apply it to solving the worlds energy needs, the US could lead the world again. Where is Nicolai Tesla when you need him most?
    Thanks Cyril,for an unusual post….. a great way to start my day.

  2. 2 Seymour Jun 30th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Thanks Cyril, he was a true American original and a bad ass!

  3. 3 Lyle Jun 30th, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Nicola Tesla let himself be taken advantage of by Edison and later by Westinghouse. He was also eccentric enough to be not taken as seriously as he should have been. Unlike Tesla, Curtiss was a savvy businessman who also had some very good connections with men like Dr. Bell, and Henry Ford. It was a good thing too, as he sure had a legal patent battle with the Wright Brothers.

  4. 4 Jim C Jun 30th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    eventually there were Curtiss-Wright airplanes, but the P-40 will always be my favorite Glenn Curtiss creation

  5. 5 Lyle Jun 30th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Yeah, the governmant was so frustrated with their battle during a period of need (WW-I) that they forced them to combine. Curtiss and the Wrights prtty much quit the aero business soon after. Curtiss did what’s wrong with most of our country now: quit innovating and started speculating. He was quoted as saying: “I if knew how easy it was to make money in real estate, I’d have never gone into manufacturing.” Or something to that effect. My favorite is his W-3 motorcycle, and the Jenny. Although he made some real cool hydroplanes too. One of his inventions was the stepped float to overcome suction during takeoff.

  6. 6 Steve Hog Radio Producer Jun 30th, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Great mini history article on an individual who paved the way for better things to come in the world of motorcycling and airplanes.

    The difference between then and now is these guys didn’t have to deal with law suits, legislation and the eco challenges of today. No worrying about the Feds coming down on you for “unsafe”(like so called lead bans in youth ATV’s products and emmissions.

    Long live the golden years of creativity, they’re not over yet just more challenging.

  7. 7 Jim McBride - Motorcycle aficionado - Jun 30th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Sorry about the typo in the header eh?


  8. 8 Mike Jul 1st, 2011 at 6:57 am

    This last winter, I visited his museum in Hammondsport. Definitely worth seeing.

  9. 9 Larry R Jul 1st, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for the post, Cyril! I learn something new everyday.

  10. 10 DUHL Jul 1st, 2011 at 9:58 am

    P 40 yea baby!!

  11. 11 Mark Jul 1st, 2011 at 10:10 am

    A little motorcycle history mixed in with new product info is good stuff, Cyril. The books say Glenn had a pretty strong personality, but imagine working in his shop! Interesting to note his ’07 LSR machine used shaft drive. He must have had to really ease the clutch out given the size of that angle drive. The E. J. Potter of his day. (We have a fine Curtiss V-Twin on display at the National Motorcycle Museum.)

  12. 12 cwglide Jul 1st, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Imagine going 134 mph on basically a motorized bicycle, fastest I’ve gone, approx 120 mph and that made me nervous.,,,lol. Id have to say Glen Curtis had a pair, that’s for sure. Thanks for the post Cyril!!

  13. 13 Toby Jul 1st, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Imagine going 134 mph on pact SAND!

    Still a typo on the first paragraph: >Glenn Curtiss, born in 1978< Should be 1878.

  14. 14 martin Twofeather Jul 1st, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Excellent job Cyril keep up the great work…….

  15. 15 nicker Jul 1st, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Do ya think Curtiss waved to other motorcyclists….???


  16. 16 Steve D... Jul 3rd, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Imagine going 134 mph on packed SAND!

    And running tires made from natural rubbers and linen!

    Steve D…

  17. 17 mike corbin Jul 5th, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    American Building Block

  18. 18 frogman Jul 5th, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Tres interessant tout ca Cyril. Merci d’enrichir notre culture generale tous les jours.
    That was frog verbiage for “very interesting Cyril and thank you for enriching (?) our general culture every day”. On a side note, most people remember the Wright Bros..but Clement Ader was actually the first to fly.

  19. 19 StarWolve Jul 8th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    If you’re ever in upstate NY, please stop in Hammondsport and check out the museum. () I went just a few weeks ago for the first time, and was amazed at the number of bikes they have on display there.

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