Above is a 1917 Henderson. You’ll notice it’s an inline four cylinder. What’s interesting is it’s got a transfer case to change the direction of the final drive to operate a chain. In the 1947 Nimbus, you see a similar setup but they decided to keep their final drive inline with the engine and go into a shaft drive with the transfer point moving to the rear wheel. In most Modern bikes, the inline cylinders are turned 90 degrees to the frame so that the end of the drive (after the clutch transmission) goes directly to the drive sprocket.
See this is the difference between the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss. The Wrights were preeminent in their field. They’d experimented with many different things before they settled on the design for the Wright Flyer. At their core, they were scientists and nobody can discount their impact or their legacy in flight. Curtiss, like the Wrights came out of the bicycle world but as a racer. This of course led him to start making his own bikes to race, which led him to making bikes to sell. His Hercules brand became very successful and by the age of 20 he was manufacturing bike for the masses. But Glen’s real passion was speed and it was this passion that would see him go from motorcycles to airships to airplanes, flying boats and a bid for the first trans Atlantic flight. It also led to a long and bitter fight with the Wrights over patents but that’s another story.
His impact on the modern world is huge and had he lived past 54, it would have been greater still. As you walk around the museum, you get a sense of this and not just because it’s a building dedicated to him but let’s think about that for a second. How many pioneers of flight and speed can we dedicate an entire museum to? I’m talking individuals. You go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and there’s the Wright Flyer and even at the Wright Memorial, the Flyer has one room to itself and another for the tools they used and of course the shed’s they assembled and repaired the Flyer in. Even the Udvar Hazy has hundreds of aircraft, many built by the same company but there’s maybe four or five examples of each. This man, has an entire building full of the things he built. They hang from the ceiling, they adorn the walls, the material covers decades. From the age of 20 on, he moved from market to market, from discovery to discovery and unlike Eddison, he did it with a humanity and credit going where credit was due. I only had a few hours to view this magnificent collection, I could have taken days.
This is one of Curtiss’ production models. It’s in full running condition. The Museum took it out for a spin on the 100 year anniversary of Glenn Curtiss’ birthday.
You’ll note how there’s a pedal chain on one side and the drive belt on the other.
In 1907 he set an unofficial world speed record of 136.36mph on a 40 HP 4000cc V8 motorcycle. The original bike is in the Smithsonian but this is an accurate copy built from spare parts. His speed record stood until 1911 when it was beaten by a car but his motorcycle speed record stood until the year of his death 1930.
The museum also has a large number of period relative machines for contrast. All are very cool but some you look at and wonder if the person who designed it ever sat on any sort of bike. Like this unit… the 1924 Ner-A-Car powered by a 2.5Hp two stroke engine with a five speed friction drive. It had a blistering top speed of 35mph. Which is good because it doesn’t look like they were big on front brakes.
This unit is interesting to me because it’s built by the AO Smith Company. AO Smith has had it’s fingers in many pies over the years. My Dad worked for AO Smith Harvestore their silo division and I’ve come across their sleeve pumps in a few places over the years. Kind of cool to see they dabbled for a bit in cars and motors.
Who wouldn’t want a bike called the, “Whizzer.” It just looks like all kinds of fun.
This is a Curtiss engine for an airship and it’s his first foray into lighter than air travel. His light and powerful engine designs are what finally put his in touch with Alexander Graham Bell and his efforts to build an aircraft.
Tomorrow, we move on to the June Bug and some interesting facts about the Silver Dart.