The Dawn of a Legacy exhibition opened in August at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, featuring 16 Curtiss motorcycles – the most ever assembled under one roof – and 15 other bikes built between 1901-1912.
Rick Leisenring, who has been curator of the museum for 19 years, told American Rider the exhibition is the result of a yearlong effort involving the cooperation of five museums and 10 private collectors and was developed to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Glenn Curtiss starting his motorcycle and engine business.
Many people are surprised to hear that the first V-Twin was not built by Harley or Davidson or Hendee or Hedstrom but rather by Curtiss.
Curtiss’ first motorcycle had a single-cylinder engine that he built using his own castings and a ball-bearing design he created himself. He marketed the motorcycles under the Hercules brand in 1902 and moved up to a V-Twin the next year, which he put in a motorcycle that he rode to a speed record of 64 mph.
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After a copyright dispute, Curtiss changed the Hercules brand name to his own surname, which would become well-known in the aviation industry as well. In 1909, he turned the motorcycle side of the business over to a childhood friend, and the Marvel brand was born.
“Glenn contributed extensively in the development and growth of the motorcycle industry, an achievement that is little known today,” Leisenring said in a media statement announcing the Dawn of a Legacy exhibition.
Beyond the motorcycle industry, Curtiss also made significant contributions to the field of aviation. One of his 9-horsepower V-Twins powered a dirigible to a distance and altitude record in 1904, and later, Curtiss developed a 269-cubic-inch V-8 for aircraft use. He would use that V-8 in a motorcycle that would propel him to speed record of 136.26 mph in 1907 – a mark that wouldn’t be beaten by a motorcycle for a remarkable 23 years.
In 1913, out of a desire to focus more on the aviation business, Curtiss put his entire inventory of motorcycles, parts, and tooling up for sale.
“In retrospect,” Leisenring said, “if weren’t for his motorcycles and love of speed, aviation would have taken a lot longer to get off the ground.”
Related Story: The Curtiss W-3: America’s First 3-Cylinder Motorcycle
In conjunction with his responsibilities as the curator of the museum, Leisenring told AR he has been spending the past six years researching and writing a “more definitive history on that era.”
Of the 16 Curtiss motorcycles at the Dawn of a Legacy exhibition, all three brands – the Hercules, Curtiss, and Marvel – are represented in models from well-known collectors such as Jim Dennie, Dale Stoner, Dale Axelrod, Vern Fasel, and Bruce Linsday. Leisenring said they have a reproduction 1907 Curtiss V-8 that was made from a number of original Curtiss parts.
“We had the original on loan to us from the Smithsonian for 20 years and built this one before returning the original,” he said.
Leisenring says the exhibit is a work in progress, but as of publication, the current list of motorcycles in the exhibit is listed below.
Motorcycles at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum Dawn of a Legacy Exhibition
- 1904 Hercules 1 cyl. (Glenn H. Curtiss Museum)
- 1904 Hercules 2 cyl. (Dale Stoner)
- 1904 Hercules Racer w/torpedo tanks 2 cyl. (Dale Axelrod)
- 1906 Curtiss 2 cyl. (Dale Axelrod)
- 1907 Curtiss 1 cyl. (Bruce Linsday)
- 1908 Curtiss 1 cyl. standard frame (C & M Darling)
- 1908 Curtiss 1 cyl. standard frame (Danny McGill)
- 1909 Curtiss 2 cyl. Wehman frame (C & M Darling)
- 1909 Curtiss 3 cyl. (Dale Stoner)
- 1909 Curtiss 1 cyl. standard frame w/ side car (GHCM)
- 1911 Curtiss 2 cyl. Cook frame (GHCM)
- 1912 Curtiss 1 cyl. Wehman frame (GHCM)
- 1910 Curtiss 2 cyl. Wehman frame (Jim Dennie)
- 1910 Marvel 1 cyl. (Bruce Linsday)
- 1911 Marvel 1 cyl. (Jim Dennie)
- 1907 Curtiss V-8 reproduction (GHCM)
Other cycle brands to be displayed
- 1901 Thomas Auto-Bi Motor Bicycle (Danny McGill)
- 1904 Thomas Auto-Bi Motorcycle (Jim Dennie)
- 1909 Greyhound (Bruce Linsday)
- 1901 Mitchell (Danny McGill)
- 1908 Indian 1 cyl. Camelback (Vern Fasel)
- 1911 Indian 1 cyl. (Vern Fasel)
- 1911 Emblem (Pierce-Arrow Museum)
- 1904 Orient (Jim Dennie)
- 1909 Harley-Davidson Model 5 singlecylinder (Harley-Davidson Museum)
- 1905 Erie (Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum)