The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum
Motorcycle and Aviation history

Hammondsport, NY.

August 6th, 1999

CentralMap name New York is a treasure chest of interesting places to go. Many of them depict in some way, the area around them. Such is the case of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum which is dedicated to Glenn Hammond Curtiss, one of America's leading pioneers in early aviation. The Museum is large by county museum standards and very well kept. image-15We spent the afternoon with Kirk House, the museum's director and curator, in his 4th year of management. "The museum reflects the history of Hammondsport, and some of its achievements.", he said as we stood in front of one of the beautiful aircraft that the museum has on display. "Although the museum is about Glenn Curtiss, there are many items that are not related to him, but represent a life-style change over the years in the towns around us". We rambled through the great hall as he explained the story unfolding before us in historical pictures and artifacts. Glenn H. Curtiss was born in Hammondsport, New York, on May 21, 1878. A self-taught mechanical genius, his first marks on history came in 1900 when Glenn acquired a bicycle repair businessimage-03 from Jim Smillie. Glenn set up shop in a small room lent to him, rent free, on Pulteney Street. Glenn sketched out his own ideas and soon had a fine product he called the "Hercules". Glenn had a fascination for speed, so it was just a matter of time before he began tinkering with the idea of motorizing one of his bikes. He ordered a mail-order motor and late in 1901 rode out on his first motorbike. He continued improving on the idea by developing efficient lightweight engines that powered motorcycles. Glenn continued seeking ever faster speeds and then, after setting yet another world speed record on Ormond Beach, Curtiss wheeled out a shocker. Before the crowd and officials at Ormond Beach he displayed a V-8 motorcycle, the likes of which had never been seen before. Obviously not a standard machine, the V-8 could image-02 not be entered for any race on the docket. But officials did agree to an official time trial, allowing a two-mile run-in to get up speed. Curtiss bulleted down a mile of beach in 26.4 seconds, reaching a speed over 136 miles per hour. It took him another mile to stop. Once he did, Glenn Curtiss learned that he had shattered the world speed record. Not even a steam locomotive had ever matched his time. He had done the mile faster than any man in history. Purists sniffed that this had not been an official record trial. But Curtiss, protected only by a leather suit and helmet, had bet his life on his machine and his skill. He won his bet on January 24, 1907. His world speed record would stand until 1911 when it was broken by an auto. It remained the world motorcycle record until 1930, the year Glenn Curtiss died. Glenn's fascination soon changed from land vehicles to air vehicles as he added his engines first to dirigibles and then, as World War I spread across Europe, he produced sea planes powered by his own engines. England bought all he could make as the British sought ways to combat the new menace of the sea, the submarine. With the war concluded, Curtiss found even bigger opportunities in the aerospace industry by combining his company with the Wright Aeronautical Corp. to become the famous Curtiss-Wright Corp. which became the world's largest producer of aircraft and engines at that time.


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