Posts Tagged ‘Tom Cooper’

Tom Cooper: Fastest man in Detroit

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Prior to the advent of auto racing in the early 1900s, bicycle racers were the fastest men alive. And from 1895 to 1900, no Detroiter was faster than Tom Cooper.

Cooper was born in Birmingham, but moved to Detroit with his family at age 18. He became a pharmacist by trade but eventually switched to bicycle racing.

Turning professional

Friend John Colquhoun told the Detroit Free Press about Cooper’s breakthrough race when he beat champion racer Eddie “Cannon” Bald in Battle Creek on July 22nd, 1895.

“Cooper was a low salaried drug clerk at the time, fair and ruddy faced. He had no racing wheel [i.e. bicycle] of his own — he couldn’t afford it.

“As they were lining up for the pistol, Cooper could scarcely keep his admiring eyes off the great Bald. Finally Bald took offense at the individual ovation and asked the ‘kid’ what he means.

“‘I was just thinking,’ Cooper replied, ‘how fortunate I would be if I could finish second to you, Mr. Bald.’

‘”Get t’ell out of my way,’ was all the satisfaction Cooper got, ‘or you’ll not finish at all.’”

That apparently inspired young Cooper who soundly beat Bald. Afterwards Cooper was approached with a sponsorship deal.

“‘How would you like to sign for the rest of the season at $50 a week?’

“‘For $50 a week!’ cried Cooper. ‘Come sign me for life.’”

The bidding began and he was eventually under contract earning $200 a week (~$5,500 a week in today’s dollars) while also getting paid $1,000 to use a sponsor’s saddle and $500 to use another’s chain.

After six years of professional cycling — and most likely being the highest paid athlete in Detroit sports — he’d saved $60,000 to $100,000.

Cooper was the pride of the Detroit Wheelmen cycling club.

He set world records in 1897, was the National Cycling Association (NCA) U.S. Champion in 1899, and spent the 1900 season racing in Europe.

After returning from Europe he agreed to a match race against Marshall “Major” Taylor, who was the League of American Wheelmen champion and world champion in 1899, and the NCA Champion in 1900.

Taylor wrote in his autobiography, “If there were two riders on earth that I wanted to meet in match races above all others, they were Eddie Bald and Tom Cooper.”

The race was held in front of a 10,000 spectators at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Taylor won the first two races to take the best of three. Cooper left humiliated.

He continued to race the U.S. circuit in 1901 but retired afterwards at the age of 25.

Interestingly enough, his last bike race may have been at Detroit’s first major automobile race on October 10th, 1901. He and Barney Oldfield raced a motorized tandem bicycle against the clock, which received “scarcely a ripple of applause” according to the Detroit Journal.

Henry Ford was in that first auto race. He had Tom Cooper ride with him during his warm up laps. The champion cyclist advised Ford on how to best race the track and handle his machine. Ford won the race.

Afterwards, Cooper headed to Colorado to manage a coal mine but he would be back the next summer itching to race once again — this time in automobiles.

Read more about Cooper’s return to Detroit and his partnerships with Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield

 

Bicycle history in the Henry Ford Collection

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

The Henry Ford has some key bicycle history. Perhaps the most well-known is the Wright Bicycle shop that Henry Ford worked with Orville Wright and relocated to Greenfield Village in 1937.

The museum also owns a considerable amount of other bicycle history, which they are digitizing. There are over 8,000 items in the collection now and 197 match the keyword “bicycle.”

Most of the bicycle items appear to be from other parts of the county. Still there are a few local favorites.

We especially love this “tweed ride” photo of Edison Illuminating Company employees in 1895.

In the 1890s, the safety bicycle became a way for many workers to travel to and from their jobs. This group of employees from the Edison Illuminating Company poses with their bikes for a photograph taken about 1895. The photographer was a fellow employee at the company and also owned a bicycle, Henry Ford.

Mr. Ford was better at building cars than framing his photograph.

Also among our favorites are these photos of Henry Ford with his bicycle in 1893 and famous Detroit bicycle racer Tommy Cooper in 1890-1891.

They also have the only known version of the ten-person Oriten bicycle by Orient. They also have a photo of it from 1899 on a street in Detroit .

Bike racers helped create Ford Motor Company

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

We’ve documented how the bicycling industry helped birth the automotive and road building industries. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that bicycle racing helped birth auto racing — and the Ford Motor Company.

In 1902, Henry Ford worked with two famous professional bicycle racers, Tom Cooper and Barney Oldfield. This partnership was instrumental in the creation of the Ford Motor Company.

The below story by Anthony J. Yanik was originally published in Winter 2009/2010 issue of WHEELS, a journal of the National Automotive History Collection, located at the Skillman Branch of the Detroit Public Library.

Barney Oldfield Meets Mr. Ford

YEARS AFTER HE HAD BECOME a famous racing star, Barney Oldfield would kid everyone about the day he “made” Henry Ford. “Henry Ford said “we made each other, I guess I did the better job of it,” he commented in 1915.

That he helped add to the reputation of Henry is indisputable, but the truth of the matter was that Henry Ford launched Barney Oldfield on a career that made his name a household word on the racing barnstorming circuit prior to World War I.

In April 1902, having been let go by from his second auto company, Henry Ford had become enamored of the racing scene. He asked Tom Cooper, then the most famous professional bicycle racer of the day, to join him in a new project: the build a race car and enter it in the Manufacturers Challenge Cup that would take place at Grosse Pointe, Michigan on October 25.

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