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By Douglas Sciorra

120 Years – Celebrating a Motorcycle Pioneer

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Dawn of a Legacy To Open at Glenn H. Curtiss Museum

HAMMONDSPORT, NY — If you have never heard of Glenn Curtiss, don’t feel bad. Most people haven’t. If you have, you probably know him as an aviation pioneer. If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, however, you might know him for his place in the annals of motorcycle manufacturing (tucked between Indian and Harley Davidson), and maybe even for that legendary ride on a beach in Florida in 1907 earning him the title “Fastest Man on Earth.” This August is a special time at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum thanks to a new world-class exhibit called “Dawn of a Legacy” commemorating the 120th anniversary of Glenn Curtiss establishing his motorcycle and engine manufacturing business. The exhibit will be open from August 5th, 2022 until August 31st, 2023. 

It was during the first years of the 20th century that Curtiss became a leading pioneer in motorcycles, engine design, and aeronautical endeavors. Curtiss created the first practical two-cylinder engine in America and was the first to commercially offer it as his business grew and engine designs improved. 

More than thirty motorcycles built between 1902-1912 will be on display at the museum alongside other artifacts from the period. This special new exhibit will bring together the largest number of Hammondsport-built motorcycles ever gathered under one roof. Curtiss’ competitor motorcycles will be displayed including those built by Indian and Harley Davidson. The exhibit includes loans from the Smithsonian Institution, Harley Davidson Museum, Barber Motorsports Museum and other major institutions. 

Daredevil. Speed junkie. Pioneer. Innovator. Visionary. These words might be used to describe Glenn Curtiss who was a man of firsts, always pushing boundaries, seeking to go beyond what had been done, hurtling himself headlong into the future and bringing the world with him. As a matter of fact, he went so fast on a bike he had made, with a engine he had quite literarily built to fly, that on the second run the bike split as he thundered along the shoreline at speeds faster than a locomotive, or a plane, or an automobile had ever gone. 

While his fearlessness and need for speed influenced his decisions, it was his ingenuity and his ability to build exceptional engines that caused the top scientists, inventors, and adventurers from around the world to seek out Curtiss: men like Alexander Graham Bell, and “Captain” Thomas Baldwin who in 1904 powered the first successful dirigible in America with a Curtiss engine. It was an engine originally designed for an aircraft that Curtiss temporarily repurposed for that historic motorcycle ride in 1907 catapulting him into the record books as the world’s fastest man. The following year, Curtiss himself would take to the skies and Hammondsport soon became the hotbed for aviation experimentation and development in the entire country.

Before becoming an aviation pioneer, Glenn Curtiss was among the earliest American motorcycle manufacturers, held numerous motorcycle speed records, and was “the fastest man on earth.” The museum has many wonderful items on display including vintage motorcycles, classic cars, large-scale replicas of planes, as well as lots of local history artifacts. 

Curtiss is a member of the American Motorcycle Associations’s Motorcycle Hall of Fame

Entry to the exhibit is included with general admission. Discounts are available for seniors and veterans; museum members are always free. The museum is open daily, 9am-5pm, except major holidays. Museum hours from November – April are 10am-4pm daily. 

Visit curtissmuseum.org to learn more about Dawn of a Legacy. 

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