Who Was Major Taylor


Marshall Walter (“Major”) TaylorNovember 26, 1878 – June 21, 1932

Major Taylor was an American cyclist who won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899.Taylor was the second black world champion in any sport, after boxer George Dixon. The Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a bicycle trail in Chicago are named in his honor. On July 24, 2006, the city of Worcester changed the name of part of Worcester Center Boulevard to Major Taylor Boulevard.

His memory is honored not only for his athletic feats, but for his character. Taylor was a devout Christian who would not race on Sundays for much of his career, making his success all the more remarkable.

Taylor was born on a farm in rural Indiana to parents Gilbert Taylor and Saphronia Kelter. He began as an entertainer at the age of thirteen. He was hired to perform cycling stunts while wearing a soldier’s uniform, which resulted in the nickname “Major.”


MAJOR TAYLOR: Biography at a Glance

by Lynne Tolman

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
Worcester, Mass.

Nov. 26, 1878 — Marshall W. Taylor is born in rural Indiana to a black couple who moved north from Kentucky around the time of the Civil War.

1886-1891 — Taylor is raised and educated in the home of a wealthy white Indianapolis family that employs his father as coachman. The family gives him a bicycle.

1892 — Taylor is hired to perform cycling stunts outside an Indianapolis bike shop. His costume is a soldier’s uniform, which earns him the nickname “Major.” He wins his first bike race that year.

Fall 1895 — Taylor moves to Worcester, Mass., with his employer and racing manager Louis “Birdie” Munger, who plans to open a bike factory there.

August 1896 — Taylor unofficially breaks two world track records, for paced and unpaced 1-mile rides, in Indianapolis. But his feat offends white sensibilities and he is banned from Indy’s Capital City track.

December 1896 — Taylor finishes eighth in his first professional race, a six-day endurance event at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1898 — Taylor holds seven world records, including the 1-mile paced standing start (1:41.4).

Aug. 10, 1899 — Taylor wins the world 1-mile championship in Montreal, defeating Boston rival Tom Butler. Taylor is the second black world champion athlete, after bantamweight boxer George Dixon’s title fights in 1890-91.

Nov. 15, 1899 — Taylor knocks the 1-mile record down to 1:19.

September 1900 — Thwarted in previous seasons by racism, Taylor finally gets to complete the national championship series and becomes American sprint champion.

October 1900-January 1901 — Taylor performs in a vaudeville act with Charles “Mile-a-Minute” Murphy, racing on rollers on theater stages across Massachusetts.

March -June 1901 — Taylor competes in Europe, which he had long resisted because his Baptist beliefs precluded racing on Sundays. He beats every European champion.

March 21, 1902 — Taylor marries Daisy V. Morris in Ansonia, Conn.

1902-1904 — Taylor races all over Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, with brief rests in Worcester.

1907 — Taylor makes a brief comeback after a two-year hiatus.

1910 — Taylor retires from racing at age 32. Over the next two decades, unsuccessful business ventures and illness sap his fortune.

1930 — Impoverished and estranged from his wife, Taylor drives to Chicago, stays at the YMCA and tries to sell copies of his self-published 1928 autobiography, “The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World.”

June 21, 1932 — Taylor dies at age 53 in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital, Chicago, and is buried in an unmarked grave.

May 23, 1948 — A group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Co. owner Frank Schwinn, has Taylor’s remains exhumed and reburied in a more prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Illinois.


Major Taylor Statue Dedication

Major Taylor memoria
Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and three-time Olympic medal-winning hurdler Edwin Moses were featured speakers at the public unveiling of the Major Taylor memorial on May 21, 2008 at the Worcester Public Library…Read More

View slide show of the ceremony


A Forgotten Hero

by Ken Kifer
About twenty years ago, I was browsing in a college library, looking for something interesting to read, when by chance I discovered Major Taylor’s autobiography, next to a book on weightlifting.

I have never been much of a fan of bicycle racing; however, I was intrigued by this story of a sports hero I had never heard of before, who raced back in the golden age of cycling at the turn of the century, and I read his book completely absorbed. It was his personality, his struggle, and his open and unpolished writing style that made me his admirer, rather than his victories on the track. Continue reading


Major Taylor Exhibit Pedaling History Museum in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Pedaling History features one of the world’s largest collections of antique and classic American bicycles, including thousands of items of cycling-related memorabilia.

We place special emphasis on the social effects of the bicycle–the ways in which it affected practically every American and introduced many modern characteristics of this country, from women’s clothing and freedoms … to product marketing using dealer networks … to advertising techniques.