This Man Set A Speed Record On A Blimp-Powered Bike

Meet the father of fast

Ormond Beach
Glenn Curtiss, the pioneer of everythingGlenn H. Curtiss Museum

You'd be hard pressed to overestimate Glenn Curtiss' contribution to the American landscape. Pilots owe him the WWI-era JN-4 "Jenny" trainer, as well as naval aviation. A prolific developer, whole cities in Florida can credit him with their existence.

Motorcyclists? We can thank the man for our speed. In early 1907, Curtiss was an established engine builder. Like the Wright brothers, he’d parlayed bicycle expertise into bigger, faster things. His motorcycles set speed records, and his engines powered the first American airships. He was about to become the fastest man on earth.

The V-8 that propelled his machine was designed for dirigibles. It would later power airplanes, too, but on Ormond Beach, Florida, in January, shoehorned into a simple suspensionless frame, it launched Curtiss to a gobsmacking 136 mph. As one of his generation’s leading innovators, he was often photographed. He inevitably appears unsmiling, hair waxed into place. His eyes are often pinched with contempt, looking into the camera as if he has no time to wait for one of the era’s lesser miracles to do its work. But photographed in action at the controls of his creations, his racers, and his airplanes, Glenn Curtiss looks consumed—wholly occupied by the machines he cared for so passionately. We understand the feeling.