Glenn Curtiss

Aviation - Class of 1990

Glenn Curtiss

Honored by the Motorsports Hall of Fame because of his many quests for speed, Glenn Curtiss is universally renowned as one of the foremost pioneers in U.S. aviation. Recruited by Alexander Graham Bell because of his genius with motors, Curtiss was the engine man on a team assembled by Bell to "get into the air". Shortly after the Wright brothers successes in secrecy, Curtiss and his group made a series of publicly recorded flights which thrust the country into the Age of Aviation.

Curtiss also played an important role in designing and building planes for the United States and its allies during World War I. His most famous design was the JN-4, or Jenny trainer - a plane that became a popular barnstormer after the war and was also used for the first Canadian mail flights over the Rocky Mountains.

Born in 1878, in Hammondsport, New York, Curtiss started out building engines for bicycles, and then complete motorcycles. He became an expert motorcycle racer, and in 1907 he became the fastest man on earth when he ran a prototype 8-cylinder motorcycle at Ormond Beach, Florida to a record speed of 136.3 mph - a mark that remained unsurpassed for any land vehicle until 1911 and for two-wheel vehicles until 1930.

But it was in the air, rather than on land that Curtiss was really in his element. In 1904, he designed and built a motor for a dirigible. Four years later, he won the Scientific American Trophy for being the first to fly a plane a distance of one kilometer.

Curtiss achieved worldwide recognition when he won the Gordon Bennett Cup - the first international flying competition. Taking his plane to France for the contest, Curtiss carried his disassembled plane with him in four oversize packages. Fitting into the trunk of a limousine, the parcels were brought aboard ship as his personal luggage for the trip across the Atlantic. He took only one spare part - a propeller.

In a preliminary run at the Reims Air Meet of 1909, Curtiss set the absolute world air speed record of 43.3 mph. In those times of early progress and daily discovery, his record only lasted for twenty four hours. Because his land record still held, for that one day he was the fastest man on earth and in the sky!

Glenn Hammond Curtiss is the quintessential symbol of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Known merely as a "speed demon" in his youth, his quest for excellence through courage and innovation is an example that must be preserved for all time.