Before achieving fame in aeronautics, Glenn Curtiss started his career with motorcycles. The early aviation community began to seek out Curtiss because of his growing reputation for designing powerful, lightweight motorcycle engines. In 1906 he designed his first V-8 engine in response to several requests from early aeronautical experimenters.
As a manufacturer and racer of motorcycles, it was only natural for Curtiss to wonder how fast he could move on a motorcycle with his V--8. He instructed his workers to construct a frame that could support the weight of the engine. The Curtiss V-8 was air-cooled, producing approximately 30 to 40 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. The motorcycle used direct drive because a conventional chain-and-belt transmission could not withstand the power of the massive engine. Curtiss took the motorcycle to the Florida Speed Carnival at Ormond Beach in January 1907. He recorded a record-setting speed of 218 kph (136 mph) during his run. He was dubbed "the fastest man on Earth."
Image Number: 98-15441
Credit: Image by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
For print or commercial use, please contact: Smithsonian Institution
Reproductions are not currently available. If you would like to use this image as-is, please submit a permission request.