sport had an embryonic period that evolved to resemblethe
sport as we know it. After the initial touch and go when
they're just seeing what works and what doesn't, the essential
form takes shape...Though primitive in
terms of what it evolves into, it serves as the basic starting
point model. At about that time rules are coded and governing
bodies begin to form...This weeks feature on a c1912
Flying Merkel motorcycle
race trophy is from that starting point period in motorcycle
we continue looking into this trophy's history, let's put it's time frame into perspective. To do that we'lltake a cursory
look at the beginnings of the motorcycle in America. To give you
a feel for the industry, below is a
list of most of the American motorcycle makers at
the turn of the 19th century:
Indian 1901-1953 Springfield MA.
1903-2019 Milwaukee, WI
The Flying Merkel 1902-1917 Middletown OH
Henderson 1912-1931Detroit MI
Iver Johnson 1907-1915 Fitchburg, MA
1902-1929 Cleveland OH
Waltham Orient 1899-1907 Waltham MA
Marsh-Metz 1908-1913 Brockton, MA
Four 1909-1914 Buffalo NY
1902-1918 Hartford CT
Sears Dreadnought 1910's Chicago Il
Cyclone 1912-1917St. Paul MN
Thor 1901-1907 Aurora IL
Reading-Standard 1903-1923 Reading PA
Wagner 1901–1914 St. Paul MN
Columbia 1905-1913 Boston MA
Curtiss 1903-1925 Hammondsport NY
Emblem 1909-1918 Angola N.Y.
Yale 1906-1915 Toledo Ohio
1907-1924, Stamford Ct.
Haverford Ace 1920-1924 Philadelphia. PA
For the sake of time we'll only take a quick look at three, Indian, Harley-Davidson, and Flying Merkel.
By the way, just an FYI...there were also European makes like Excelsior,
Norton, Triumph, and others that also competed on American
tracks during motorcycle racings early days...
"Indian" motorcycle, produced in Springfield
Massachusetts, was the first bankable, dependable enough, mass
produced motorcycle in the United States, starting in 1901. The
first year only three were produced...in 1902 they made 143...in
1903, 377 were made...and in 1904, 546 were made...
1905 twenty four year old William S. Harley and childhood friend
Arthur Davidson built the first five Harley Davidson motorcycles
in a back yard shed at William's home. That year Carl H. Lang of
Chicago became the first Harley Davidson dealership and sold
Joseph Frederic Merkel
of the Flying Merkel Motorcycle
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame 1998
sensational Flying Merkel was harder to research than Indian and
Harley...as there hasn't been as much written...But I kept
digging and managed to come up with some great info...Researcher Michael J. Petrie wrote such a
great profile of Joseph Merkel, the founder of the Flying Merkel
I post it below...
Courtesy Michael J. Petrie:
Joseph Merkel was the founder of Merkel Motorcycles, manufacturer of machines better known as the "Flying Merkel." The Flying Merkel was one of the leading racing and road machines of the 1910s, earning numerous victories in a variety of contests of the day. Joseph Merkel was considered to be one of the finest engineers in U.S. motorcycling. He came up with dozens of innovative designs, many of which were copied by other motorcycle makers.
Merkel was born in Manistee, Michigan, in 1872. His father was employed in the logging industry and like many boys of his era, young Joseph went to work at a young age. He worked as an engineer on a logging railroad in 1886 when he was just 14 years old. At 15 Merkel went to work at a machine shop and learned the particulars of making machined parts that were light and durable. The practical mechanical experience gained in machining gave him a desire to learn more. He enrolled at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) to study mechanical engineering.
In 1897, Merkel accepted a draftsman position at E.P. Allis Co. (later to become Allis-Chalmers Co.) in Milwaukee. By the turn of the century, Merkel had opened his own business that manufactured bicycle parts. By 1901, Merkel was attaching small motors to bicycles and the Merkel Motorcycle was born. A motor-powered tricycle Merkel had built in 1900 was thought to be one of the first self-propelled vehicles built in Wisconsin.
Merkel didn't stop at motorcycles. In 1906, his company built 150 automobiles featuring a powerful 30-horsepower engine.
In 1908, Merkel merged his company with the Light Motor Co. and the new Merkel-Light Motor Co. moved activities to Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
Flying Merkels were known for having one of the finest rides in all of motorcycling and also as one of the most reliable motorcycles on the road. Merkels were more costly than many motorcycles of the time, but Merkel engines utilized the best German-made bearings and other high-quality materials, which led to excellent reliability.
Merkel also helped design a unique front and rear suspension system on his motorcycles. The rear suspension was a mono-shock design that proved to be decades ahead of its time. Yamaha would later make a similar single rear shock design popular again on racing machines of the 1970s and beyond. Even more impressive than the rear suspension was the front fork of the Flying Merkels. The fork was so good (telescopic in principle, using dual coil springs, yet looking like an unsprung trussed fork) that many other manufacturers put Merkel forks on their factory racing machines even through the 1920s, years after Merkel had ceased production.
Riders such as board track stars Morty Graves and Fred Whittler, and dirt track racers like Maldwyn Jones and Cleo Pineau, brought fame to the Flying Merkel through racing. Merkel rarely got directly involved in the racing end of his company, leaving that to other employees, but he attended many of races. With few exceptions, Merkel did not field full-fledged factory racing teams, but the company did pay many Merkel racers' expenses through its sales division.
Early in 1911, Miami Cycle and Mfg. Co. purchased Merkel-Light and transferred all operations to its Middletown, Ohio headquarters. Merkel came along with his company in the purchase. Merkel stayed with the company he founded until 1914 when he sold his interest in the company. Merkel went on to design and patent the Merkel Motor Wheel, which was later manufactured by Indian Motocycle Co.
By the 1920s, Merkel had moved to Rochester, New York, to take over experimental design for the Cyclemotor Corp. Merkel earned a lot of praise from the motorcycling industry in the early 1920s when he convinced the New York legislature to assess lower highway fees on motorcycles since they caused much less wear and tear to the road than automobiles.
The Flying Merkel continued on without Merkel at the helm until just before the onset of World War I. After the war, Miami Cycle Mfg., like dozens of other American manufacturers, did not return to the motorcycle business. The Flying Merkel was relegated to the history books.
Little is known about Merkel after his stint with Cyclemotor in the early 1920s. He was an avid golfer and secretary of the Genesee Golf Club near Rochester. He was also a prominent booster in the Knights of Columbus and was involved in many charities.
Michael J. Petrie
Of All Flying Merkel Racing Stories
that was a really great find that shed light on the production
side....Then in all my dizzying array of research I stumbled onto
the mother of all Flying Merkel racing history stories. It was written in 1975 by J. L.
Beardsley for the American Motorcyclist Magazine, being the
organ of the American Motorcyclist Association...J. L. writes
with a command and authority that takes you there...Be sure to
pick up your copy...err...I mean be sure to scroll down and read
the story.....as I've posted it here for all to read. The story is great because although
the focus is on the Flying Merkel...you get a birds eye view of
essentially the whole world of motorcycle racing at it's beginning
stage....The story hop-scotches the country going from
city to city as he recounts the races the Flying Merkel competed
in...And it will introduce you to the biggest name racers....
OUT THIS STORY BELOW
J. L. BEARDSLEY
THE JANUARY 1975 EDITION OF
would have to be the
story ever written on the Flying Merkel
sure to use the
option and page turn arrows
Examination of engraving
there is no date on the trophy the engraving has plenty of clues to
it's history. First you have the make of the motorcycle, the Flying Merkel...Plus the number #13 assigned the rider,
seen at the top of the engraving...then there's the winners name Louis A.
have the track the race was held at "Tampa Bay
Track"...and last you have the name of the individual who
donated the trophy...a Mr. H. M. Stanford...
ON TROPHY - EXACT VERBATIM
10 MILE STOCK RACE
LOUIS A. TORRES
TAMPA BAY TRACK
taken a close look at Louis Torres...and the Flying
Merkel....Now let's look into Mr. Stanford...Who was he and why is his name on
there...Mr. H.M. Stanford was the president and general manager
of the Tampa Bay Hotel...In it's
day the 511 room Tampa Bay Hotel was among the most opulent
resorts in all of Florida. It was built by railroad magnet Henry
B. Plant, and operated from 1891 to 1930...And guess what it
had?...a race track..
The grounds of the Hotel were just as awe-inspiring as the building itself, spanning 150 acres. The amenities included an 18-hole golf course, flower conservatory, tennis courts, a croquet greensward, boathouse, hunting and fishing grounds, stables, racetrack, kennels, exposition hall with Florida products on view, Casino with a 2000-seat auditorium, heated swimming pool, bowling alley, spa facilities and card rooms -- totaling 21 buildings in all.
1/4" WIDE X 17 3/8" TALL
RACE TRACK METAL TROLLEY CAR DESTINATION SIGN
Carlton Hendricks collection
everything I've read H. M. Stanford was the one that made motorcycle
racing possible in Tampa by fitting his hotel's horseracing
track with banked turns suitable for automobile and
motorcycle racing...Guys like Torres and Mariscano provided
the daring feats...Stanford provided the venue...H. M.
Stanford not only promoted motorcycle racing but also led a
civic-minded group of investors to form a corporation called
the Tampa Baseball Training Club which brought the Chicago
Cubs to Tampa for spring training.
rare early photos of Tampa Bay Track
let's take a look into the "Tampa Bay Track"...Initially it was on the
grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel and was used for horseracing. Later a baseball
field was constructed there and the Chicago Cubs held winter training
there...thenlater it became part of the Florida
State Fairgrounds...The engraving on the trophy states the race for our trophy took
the hotel would have wanted to provide a wide variety of
entertainment for their guests...The new phenomena of
motorcycle racing would have certainly been a boon to
their line up of revelry.
of pure coincidence I happen to work at a hotel similar to
the Tampa Bay Hotel ...And I can tell you from thirty one
years working there...hotel owners and general managers
get pet projects they are very proud of. Based on the
newspaper article above it appears motorcycle races was
one of manager H. M. Stanford's pet projects...as he seems
to taken very active control even down to personally
overseeing the track was remolded to meet safety demands.
RACE TOOK PLACE ON
BAY HOTEL BELOW
Flying Merkel had a top speed of about 60MPH during the trophy's 1912
era...Which of course would be laughable for today's motorcycles...But back in
the day 60MPH was very exciting...We'll wrap this feature up with a rare look at
an actual Flying Merkel in the video below...You'll get a kick out of the ferocious
put-put sound of the motor...Thanks for stopping by...hope you enjoyed the
tour...see you next feature Lord willing...
this talk of the fabulous Flying Merkel...but here
a real live Flying Merkel in action...