Marshall "Major" Taylor
Location: Intersection of 38th St. and the Monon Trail, across from the Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis (Marion County, Indiana)
Installed: 2009 Indiana Historical Bureau, Central Indiana Bicycling Association Foundation, and Indiana State Fair Commission
Born in Indianapolis, 1878, Taylor moved to Massachusetts, 1895, to pursue a cycling career. In 1896, he set a one-mile record at Capital City Track located here. He won his first professional race in December 1896 and quickly established himself as a world-class cyclist. During his career, he set world records in distances from one-quarter mile through two miles.
In 1899, Taylor won the world one-mile professional cycling championship. He won U.S. circuit championships in 1899 and 1900 despite discrimination he confronted as cycling's first African-American champion. In the early 1900s, he won races and acclaim in Europe and Australia. After retiring in 1910, he wrote his autobiography to inspire others. He died in 1932.
African American, Sports
Marshall “Major” Taylor
Born in Indianapolis, 1878, Taylor moved to Massachusetts, 1895, to pursue cycling career. In 1896, he set one-mile record at Capital City Track located here. He won his first professional race December 1896 and quickly established himself as a world-class cyclist. During his career, he set world records in distances from one-quarter mile through two miles.
In 1899, Taylor won world one-mile professional cycling championship. He won U.S. circuit championships in 1899 and 1900 despite discrimination he confronted as cycling's first African-American champion. In early 1900s, he won races and acclaim in Europe and Australia. After retiring in 1910, he wrote his autobiography to inspire others. He died in 1932.
1. Andrew Ritchie, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer (Baltimore, 1988), 19 (B070053). Ritchie lists several possible explanations for Taylor’s nickname “Major.”
Taylor’s autobiography does not answer that question. Marshall W. “Major” Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy's Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds (1928; reprint, Freeport, N.Y., 1971) (B070061).
According to IHB research conducted thus far, the earliest record of the nickname is September 1890. Taylor placed third in a sixteen-year-old and under bicycle race at Peoria, Illinois. “. . . quite a sensation was created when Major Taylor, a little colored boy of eleven years appeared. . . .” Taylor won third place in the race. “Wheelmen at Peoria,” Chicago Herald, September 14, 1890 (B071016).
2. Taylor, 1, 11-17 (B070061); Passport Application, March 5, 1901, Major Taylor, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925, at AncestryLibrary.com (accessed May 20, 2009); Worcester Spy (Massachusetts), October 20, 1895 (B071022).
One of the employers Taylor worked for in Indianapolis was Louis D. “Birdie” Munger, a former cycle racer who manufactured bicycles in the city. In the fall of 1895, Munger left Indianapolis for Worcester, Massachusetts to pursue a new bicycle manufacturing opportunity. Munger invited Major Taylor to go with him: “I am going to make him [Taylor] the fastest bicycle rider in the world.”
3. “Taylor Breaks Records, His Fast Work at the Capital City Track,” Indianapolis News, September 3, 1896 (B070071); Indianapolis Sun, September 3, 1896 (B071038). Taylor had returned to Indianapolis from the East and had “been doing some fast exhibition work, but has not been entered in any races.” Taylor thought he could beat the one-mile Capital City track record set by Walter Sanger “if the directors would permit him to make the attempt.” The one mile track record set by Walter Sanger in August was 2:19 2/5; on September 2, Taylor lowered the track record to 2:11 1/5.
Later that evening, again racing against time, Major Taylor unofficially broke the record set in Paris, spring of 1896, in the 1/5th mile, unpaced from a flying start on a 5-lap track, by 2/5 of a second.
Still an amateur, Taylor could not race against professionals, but he was allowed to race alone against their times. Ritchie, 57-58 (B070053).
Taylor’s autobiography describes the events at the Capital City Track in detail, but claims it occurred in 1892 or 1893. Taylor, 6-7 (B070061).
However, the grand opening of the Capital City Track was Tuesday, August 18, 1896. The track was located just south of the Indiana State Fair Grounds in Indianapolis, at the corner of 30th St. (present day 38th St.) and the Monon R.R. (present day Monon Rail-Trail). Indianapolis Sun, August 16, 1896 (B070945); Indianapolis Sun, August 17, 1896 (B070946); Indianapolis Sun, August 18, 1896 (B070947); R.L. Polk & Co's City Directory Map of Indianapolis, Ind., Revised 1896 (B070944); Indiana State Fair Board, Official Program 100th Anniversary Indiana State Fair (Indianapolis, 1952) (B070948).
4. Taylor, 18 (B070061); “Cyclers’ Many Tumbles,” New York Times, December 6, 1896 (B070124). Taylor beat Eddie Bald, Tom Cooper, Earl Kiser, and Arthur Gardiner in the half-mile handicap for professionals at Madison Square Garden. His first professional win, Taylor wired the $200 prize to his mother.
Taylor also entered the internationally-famous six-day race held at the Garden, beginning at midnight, December 7, 1896. He finished in eighth place having ridden more than 1,732 miles. Chicago Daily Tribune, December 7 and 8, 1896 (B071142); New York Times, December 6, 1896 (B070124).
5. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1 and 29, 1897 (B071142). The Tribune described Taylor as “the first colored rider that has occupied a position in these [points and prize-winning] tables.” At the end of the month, the paper listed Taylor among the top 12 racers in the run for the championship stating that he had “now acquired a national reputation in the cycle racing game.”
On August 27, 1898, Major Taylor established a new world record of 1:41 2/5 for one mile paced from standing start in the third heat of a special match race against “Jimmy” Michael. He won the overall match against Michael and established himself as one of the sport’s best riders. The New York Times offered the following analysis, “Taylor’s performance undoubtedly stamps him as the premier cycle sprinter of the world. . . .” New York Times, August 28, 1898 (B070124). This description of Taylor and his record was picked up by newspapers across the country. See “Rode Like the Wind,” Morning Oregonian (Portland), August 28, 1898 (B071443).
6. IHB staff has located contemporary newspapers to corroborate many of Taylor’s world record times, however producing a comprehensive list of Taylor’s races and record times is beyond the scope of this project at this time.
Taylor’s first known world-record time was unofficially set at the Capital City Track in Indianapolis on September 2, 1896 (see footnote 3). Still an amateur, Taylor raced against McDonald’s world-record time of 24 seconds for 1/5 mile, flying start, unpaced, on a 5-lap track. Timekeepers recorded Taylor’s 1/5 mile at :23 3/5. Indianapolis News, September 3, 1896 (B070071); Indianapolis Sun, September 3, 1896 (B071038).
Sources indicate that in 1898 and 1899, Taylor established world records in many of cycle racing’s sprint distances.
1898 1 mile paced, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 28, 1898 (B071142) and New York Times, August 28, 1898; ½ mile paced, Chicago Daily Tribune, September 6, 1898 (B071142); 1 kilometer, Chicago Daily Tribune, November 5, 1898 (B071142); ½ and 1 mile, “Chipping Away at the Records,” Denver Evening Post, November 13, 1898 (B071444); “with pacers, Taylor holds the 1-mile . . . and everything else up to [but not including] ten miles . . . .” New York Times, December 14, 1898; 6 professional records set by Taylor accepted by Racing Board, League of American Wheelmen, The Bulletin and Good Roads: Official Organ of the League of American Wheelmen (Boston), December 2, 1898, Vol. XXVIII, No. 23, p. 413 (B071445).
1899 1 mile paced, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 4, 1899 (B071142); Wisconsin State Register (Portage, Wis.), August 12, 1899; ¼ mile, Chicago Daily Tribune, November 10, 1899 (B071142); ½ mile, Chicago Daily Tribune, November 11, 1899 (B071142); one mile paced, New York Times, November 16, 1899; Taylor held “all the world’s marks up to and including the mile,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 18, 1899 (B071142).
Taylor set additional world-record times throughout his remaining career, but his extraordinary feats in 1898 and 1899 were the pinnacle of his career. In December 1900, Taylor broke the world’s record in the unpaced ¼ mile. Taylor’s record remained unbroken until December 1902. New York Tribune, December 15, 1900 (B070138); New York Times, December 11, 1902 (B070124). Taylor stated in his autobiography that he set new world records in ¼ and ½ mile distances from a standing start in 1908 during his comeback tour of Europe. Taylor, 411-13 (B070061).
7. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 8, 11, and 13, 1899 (B071142); North American (Philadelphia), August 14, 1899 (B071449).
8. Taylor, 36 (B070061); Chicago Daily Tribune, October 23, 1898 (B071142); The Bulletin and Good Roads: Official Organ of the League of American Wheelmen (Boston), September 30, 1898, Vol. XXVIII, No. 14, p. 270 (B071445). In 1898, five bicycle racers, including Major Taylor, claimed national championship titles. The differences seem to be based on variations in scoring.
In 1899, there were two competing cycling organizations, the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.) and the National Cycling Association (N.C.A.). Consequently there were two national champions. Major Taylor was the L.A.W. champion and Tom Cooper was N.C.A. champion. Indianapolis Recorder, November 11, 1899 (B071455); Chicago Daily Tribune, December 31, 1899 (B071142).
In August 1900, the National Cycling Association was described as the primary organization controlling American cycle racing. Major Taylor joined the N.C.A. circuit that year and in August and September he was leading in the championship points race. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 5, 1900 (B071142); New York Times, August 12, 30, and December 12, 1900 (B070124); New York Tribune, September 30, 1900 (B070138).
Taylor won the 1900 N.C.A. championship only to have his diamond-studded championship medal stolen from N.C.A. headquarters in February 1901. Chicago Daily Tribune, February 24, 1901 (B071142); Indianapolis Recorder, March 9, 1901 (B071455).
In 1901, Frank Kramer won the N.C.A title with the help of what the Cleveland Gazette called “the combination of white professional ‘bike’ riders ….” Cleveland Gazette, October 5, 1901 (B071452); New York Times, September 12, 1901 (B070124).
9. Throughout his autobiography, Taylor described actions, some violent, by cyclists unhappy about competing with an African American. Taylor also recounted discrimination by American hotel and restaurant owners. Some specific incidents are related in Taylor, 13, 14, 20-26, 408-09, 422, 427.
Newspapers also recorded these incidents. Only a few are listed here. The Louisville Post requested that Taylor be barred from circuit races. Weekly News and Courier (Charleston, S. C.), September 15, 1897 (B071454). Apparently, in October, 1897, Taylor was refused entry in circuit races in Louisville, and white athletes across the river in New Albany, Indiana also refused to race against him.
In April 1898, the Woodside Track in Philadelphia made a statement that “colored riders” would be barred from racing there. The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Taylor might have been able to win the “sprinting championship” if he had not been barred from some of the circuit races. Chicago Daily Tribune, April 10, 12, September 1, 1898 (B071142).
In 1900, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Taylor’s purchase of a home in a wealthy Worcester, Massachusetts neighborhood prompted the residents to offer to buy the home back with a $2000 bonus if Taylor would move out. Taylor refused their offer. Chicago Daily Tribune, February 4, 1900 (B071142).
In Syracuse, New York, Taylor was ejected from one hotel, the next hotel raised its price so high that Taylor was forced to find a third accommodation. Chicago Daily Tribune, August 2, 1901 (B071142).
In Newark, New Jersey, Taylor and his wife (Daisy V. Morris married Taylor in March 1902) were refused service at two leading restaurants. Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1902 (B071142); Naugatuck Daily News, March 24, 1902 (B070286).
At the Newark track, in the final of the ½ mile open championship race, white cyclists first pushed Taylor off the track, and then “pocketed” Taylor when he returned. New York Times, July 27, 1902 (B070124). The same “unsportsmanlike” tactics were used against Taylor in August. With the crowd yelling support for Taylor, he filed a complaint, and two of the contenders were disqualified. New York Times, August 31, 1902 (B070124).
Taylor’s obituary summed up his career: “Taylor was a marvel on a bicycle. Riding against the fastest bicyclists of America, Europe and Australia, he won national and world championships against racial prejudice, unscrupulous tactics of riders and unfair decisions of officials.” Chicago Defender, July 2, 1932 (B070062).
10. Chicago Daily Tribune, April 12, 23, May 5, 17, 28, June 29, 1901 (B071142); New York Tribune, April 12, 1901 (B070138) and New York Times, May 28, 1901 (B070124). Taylor won races in Berlin, Germany; Bordeaux and Paris, France; and Belgium. On May 16, 1901, in Paris, “about 28,000 persons paid double gate money” to watch Taylor race the French champion, Jacquelin. Taylor lost this race but evened the series with a win on May 27.
Chicago Daily Tribune, May 10, 1902 (B071142). Major Taylor won a race, May 9, in Paris.
Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Australia), January 30, 1903 (B071451); New York Times, February 16, 1903 (B070124); Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Australia), April 17, 1903 (B071451); New York Times, August 9, 1903 (B070124). Taylor raced in Sydney and Melbourne. The report from Adelaide stated that Taylor had entered 14 races, winning 11 firsts and 3 seconds. In August, Taylor made his “first appearance in England” beating the English champion.
Australian Cyclist and Motor-Car World, February 11, 1904 (B070209); New York Times, May 22, 1904 (B070124); Indianapolis Freeman, July 30, 1904 (B071450). Daisy Taylor traveled with Major to Australia in 1904; on May 11 in Sydney, their only child, Rita Sydney Taylor was born. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 18, 2005 (B070208).
Taylor raced in Europe in 1907 and 1909. Chicago Daily Tribune, May 17, August 16, 1907 (B071142) and New York Times, September 2, 1907 (B070124); Chicago Daily Tribune, May 17, 1909 (B071142).
11. The date of the publication of Taylor’s autobiography is confusing. In the original version of Taylor’s autobiography, which was printed by The Commonwealth Press in Worcester, Mass., the front matter indicates a copyright held by Taylor dated 1928. A 1971 reprint states that the autobiography was published in 1928. A letter from the Library of Congress, dated May 28, 1985, states that Taylor’s book was “Registered in the name of M. W. Taylor, under A9600 following publication November 20, 1928.” E-mail, Kisha Tandy to Dani Pfaff, June 9, 2009 (B071448).
Author Andrew Ritchie indicates that the book was not published/printed until 1929. Ritchie, 239-43 (B070053).
12. Death Certificate, Marshall Taylor, Cook County, Illinois (B070249). Chicago Defender, July 2, 1932 (B070062); Chicago Daily Tribune, February 9, 1948 (B071442); “The Bicycle Racing Stars of the Nineteenth Century Assn. Reverently Honor the Memory of ‘Major’ Taylor,” 1948 clipping, Major Taylor Collection, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis (B070210).
Taylor died Tuesday, June 21, 1932. He was buried at Mt. Glenwood Cemetery near Chicago, but his grave remained unmarked until 1948 when a group of friends and colleagues paid to re-inter his body and mark the site with a headstone. The headstone has been photographed and added to findagrave.com (accessed May 13, 2009) (B070151).