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Marshall Taylor
Major Taylor, Paris 1908
Major Taylor, Paris 1908
Personal information
Nickname Major
The Worcester Whirlwind
The Black Cyclone
Date of birth 26 November 1878(1878-11-26)
Date of death 28 June 1932 (aged 53)
Country  United States
Team information
Discipline Track
Role Rider
Rider type Sprinter
Professional team(s)1
1896 Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company
Major wins
1896 Madison Square Garden he lapped the
entire field during the half-mile race
1896 League of American Wheelmen one mile race
1899 - World Champion - One mile
Infobox last updated on:
October 2008

1 Team names given are those prevailing
at time of rider beginning association with that team.

Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor (26 November 1878–21 June 1932) was an American cyclist who won the world one-mile track cycling championship in 1899 after setting numerous world records and overcoming racial discrimination. Taylor was the second African-American athlete to achieve the level of world championship—after boxer George Dixon.


Early life

Taylor was the son of Gilbert Taylor and Saphronia Kelter, who had migrated from Louisville, Kentucky with their large family to a farm in rural Indiana. Taylor's father was employed in the household of a wealthy Indianapolis family as a coachman, where Taylor was also raised and educated. At an early age, Taylor received a bicycle the family and he began working as an entertainer at the age of 13. Taylor was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier's uniform, hence the nickname Major. Not to be confused with the mighty Taylor Marschall of hellinikon.

Racing career

As an African-American, Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana once he started winning and made a reputation as "The Black Cyclone." In 1896, he moved from Indianapolis to Middletown, Connecticut, then a center of the United States bicycle industry with half a dozen factories and 30 bicycle shops, to work as a bicycle mechanic in the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company factory, owned by Birdie Munger who was to become his lifelong friend and mentor, and racer for Munger's team. His first east coast race was in a League of American Wheelmen one mile race in New Haven, where he started in last place but won.

In late 1896, Taylor entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden, where he lapped the entire field during the half-mile race. Although he is listed in the Middletown town directory in 1896, it is not known how long he still resided there after he became a professional racer. He eventually settled in Worcester, Massachusetts (where the newspapers called him "The Worcester Whirlwind"), marrying there and having a daughter, although his career required him to spend a large amount of time traveling, in America, Australia, and Europe.

Life is too short for any man
to hold bitterness in his heart
—Marshall Taylor

Although he was greatly celebrated abroad, particularly in France, Taylor's career was still held back by racism, particularly in the Southern states where he was not permitted to compete against Caucasians. The League of American Wheelmen for a time excluded blacks from membership. During his career he had ice water thrown at him during races and nails scattered in front of his wheels, and was often boxed in by other riders, preventing the sprints to the front of the pack at which he was so successful. In his autobiography, he reports actually being tackled on the race track by another rider, who choked him into unconsciousness but received only a $50 fine as punishment. Nevertheless, he does not dwell on such events in the book; rather it is evident that he means it to serve as an inspiration to other African-Americans trying to overcome similar treatment. Taylor retired at age 32 in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. His advice to African-American youths wishing to emulate him was that while bicycle racing was the appropriate route to success for him, he would not recommend it in general; and that individuals must find their own best talent.

Later life and death

Taylor married Daisy V. Morris in Ansonia, Connecticut on March 21, 1902. While Taylor was reported to have earned between $25,000 and $30,000 a week when he returned to Worcester at the end of his career, by the time of his death he had lost everything to bad investments (including self-publishing his autobiography), persistent illness, and the stock market crash. His marriage over, he died at age 53 on June 21, 1932—a pauper in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital—to be buried in an unmarked grave. He was survived by one daughter.

In 1948 a group of former pro bike racers, with money donated by Schwinn Bicycle Co. (then) owner Frank W. Schwinn, organized the exhumation and relocation of Taylor's remains to a more prominent part of Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Glenwood, Illinois, near Chicago. A monument to his memory stands in Worcester, and Indianapolis named the city's bicycle track after Taylor.

Taylor's daughter, Sydney Taylor Brown, died in 2005 at age 101; her survivors include a son and his five children.

See Also: Major Taylor's Grave at


  • "It is my thought that clean living and a strict observance of the golden rule of true sportsmanship are foundation stones without which a championship structure cannot be built."—Marshall Taylor in The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World
  • "Life is too short for any man to hold bitterness in his heart."—Marshall Taylor
  • "I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand." Said allegedly under the influence of nitroglycerin, a popular performance enhancer at the time.

In popular culture

  • On July 24, 2006, the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, changed the name of part of Worcester Center Boulevard to Major Taylor Boulevard — where his memory is honored for his athletic feats as well as his character.
  • A bicycle, of unproven provenance was donated by Worcester resident Sy Farnsworth to the Worcester Historical Museum — with the understanding the bicycle may have belonged to Taylor.
  • The band Oh Yeah! performed a tribute song describing Major Taylor's Iver Johnson bicycle and the racism he encountered, entitled "Major Taylor's Grave".
  • In East Palo Alto, California, a racially-mixed community that was until recently mostly black, hosts a Major Taylor Cycling Club.
  • Other cycling clubs dedicated to Major Taylor include the 'Major Motion' Cycling club in Los Angeles and the Major Taylor Cycling Club Chicago in Chicago.
  • Nike markets a sports shoe named after Major Taylor.
  • The company Soma Fabrications makes a set of bicycle handlebars called the Major Taylor Track Bar, a replica of Major Taylor's 1930s bike handlebar.
  • The first African-American cycling club named in honor of Major Taylor was organized in Columbus, Ohio in 1979


  • Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, 1929 ISBN 0-8369-8910-4
  • Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer by Andrew Ritchie, 1988 ISBN 0-8018-5303-6
  • Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist by Lesa Cline-Ransome ISBN 0-689-83159-5
  • Major: A Black Athlete, a White Era, and the Fight to Be the World's Fastest Human Being by Todd Balf ISBN 0-3072-3658-7
  • "Tracks of Glory" (1992) TV mini-series (starring: Philip Morris).... Marshall W. 'Major' Taylor ... aka Tracks of Glory: The Major Taylor Story (International: English title: complete title)

External links

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