Newark: Cradle of Cycling in the Sport's Golden Age

by Nat Bodian


The era from 1890 to 1930 is recalled by sports historians as the Golden Age of professional cycling in America. For many of those years, Newark was considered as the nation's bike racing capital.

So many of the 'greats' of pro cycling settled in and around Newark that the city enjoyed a wide reputation as the 'cradle of cycling'.

"In the 1920s," wrote Peter Nye, author of "hearts of Lions: The Story of American Bicycle Racing" and historian of the U. S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, "Newark was to bicycle racing what the Yankee Stadium is to baseball."

Bicycle racers, wrote Charles Cummings, Newark Historian (in New Jersey Monthly, Oct. 2003) "from all over the nation and around the globe made the pilgrimage to the Newark Velodrome."

The Newark Velodrome, of course, was the center of Newark bicycle racing. It was located at 701-711 South Orange Avenue, between Devine Street and Munn Avenue.

The Newark Velodrome, built in 1907, enjoyed international renown as one of the nation's leading outdoor board tracks. It served as the eastern base of vital American racing circuit on the Eastern Seaboard, and ran race programs twice weekly, regularly selling out to capacity.

Local Bicycle History

Newark's bicycle racing history began in the 1890s at the old Waverly track, which is now part of Weequahic Park.

In that same era, in 1896, a bicycle racing track was built adjacent to Electric Park, an amusement park at 680 South Orange Avenue, on land owned by Gottfried Krueger, a prominent Newarker and owner of the brewery bearing his name. The track, first a flat strip and later an oval, struggled for half a dozen years but failed to attract crowds.

In 1907, it was demolished and replaced across South Orange Avenue at 701-711 by the Newark Velodrome. The Velodrome (bike tracks were called 'velodromes' in those years) was managed by John M. Chapman, a cycling enthusiast and a power in American cycling circles.

The Newark Velodrome

The Newark Velodrome, built in 1907, was a state-of-the-art track measuring six laps to the mile, a little over 300 yards around. Its steeply banked turns were pitched at 52 degrees at the top of the turns. The straight-aways were banked at 25 degrees1.

In 1912, Velodrome manager Chapman drew on his international cycling contacts and organized the world cycling championships in Newark. The headline-gaining event was sanctioned by the Union Cyclists Internationale, the world governing body for the cycling sport.

Racers from as many countries as went to the Stockholm Olympics that summer converged on Newark to compete for world racing titles.

For this world-class event, the 12,500 capacity stadium sandwiched in an estimated 20,000 fans who filled not only the stands and bleachers, but also the grassy infield.

A minor highlight of the world professional racing championships held in Newark was a win in the amateur sprint championships by a Newark youth, Donald McDougall.

Greatest Star of Newark Velodrome

The unquestioned star of the Newark Velodrome was Frank L. Kramer, an East Orange resident, who began bike racing when he was 15 in 1895.

In 1898, he won the League of American Wheelmen's national sprint championship. In 1899, he won the National Cycling Association title.

The great African-American bicyclist, Major Taylor, persuaded Kramer to turn professional in 1900, and Taylor beat Kramer to win the national sprint championship.

But Taylor's protégé, Kramer, went on to win the American Professional Sprint Championship for the next 16 years.

Kramer competed in only one world championship -- the one in 1912 that was held at the Newark Velodrome, and he emerged the winner.

Kramer on Other Bike Tracks

While only competing in only one world championship, Kramer did chalk up an impressive record on other bike tracks.

In the 1908 National Championships in Madison Square Garden, Kramer enhanced his international reputation by defeating Australian Champion Jackie Clark in both the half-mile and one-mile sprints.

And, after many years of national champions from various countries coming to Newark to try their skills against Kramer, the almost unbeatable U. S. Champion, Kramer, was invited to race in Europe.

He made three European tours, and won 50 of the 62 races in which he competed, including the Grand Prix de Paris.

Kramer's Retirement

Kramer raced until 1922. His retirement as a competitor was the major sports news of the day on the nation's sports pages.

Kramer chose to make his last professional appearance before his retirement at the Newark Velodrome.

In that farewell appearance, he tied the world record of 15.4 seconds in a one-sixth mile time trial in front of a crowd reported at 20,000 that filled the stands and infield.

When Kramer retired in 1922, he had earned $500,000 in 22 years of professional bike racing.

This was an era when most of the top major league baseball players were earning about $10,000 a year.

Kramer After Retirement

Kramer died in 1958, a month shy of his 78th birthday. In the 15 years after his retirement from active competition, Kramer remained active in the cycling sport as a referee, and also held various positions with the National Cycling Association.

Two years before his death in 1958, Kramer handed out the prizes to the winners of the Tour of Somerville, American's leading amateur cycling event.

End of Newark Velodrome

The Newark Velodrome ceased to exist in 1930 after its lease expired. It fell to the wrecking ball that same year.

Also that same year, its rival, the Coney Island Velodrome burned down.

The Great Depression had started to strangle the nation's economy, and by the end of 1930, with the collapse of the Eastern Seaboard's bike racing circuit, the Golden Age of American cycling was near its end.

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