William Van Wagoner: American racing cyclist and automobile designer (1870 - n/a) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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William Van Wagoner
American racing cyclist and automobile designer

William Van Wagoner

William Van Wagoner
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American racing cyclist and automobile designer
Is Athlete Sport cyclist
From United States of America
Field Sports
Gender male
Birth April 1870, New Jersey, U.S.A.
William Van Wagoner
The details (from wikipedia)


William H. Van Wagoner (April 1870 – after 1920) was born in New Jersey and was a bicycle racer from 1888 through the mid 1890s who won many competitions throughout the Northeastern United States. He went on to design the Van Wagoner, an American electric automobile manufactured between 1899 and 1903 in Syracuse, New York, by the Syracuse Automobile Company.


The Syracuse Automobile Company of Syracuse, New York, produced the small electric two-seater from 1899 to 1903. The car was originally known as the Van Wagoner, after the original designer; however, the name was changed to the Syracuse in 1900.

Bicycle racing

William Van Wagoner in June 1895

Van Wagoner was originally from New Jersey and was involved in bicycle racing long before he designed an automobile. In June 1888, he was a "bicycling champion" in Providence, Rhode Island, in the third annual 25 miles (40 km) bicycle race for the championship of the Rhode Island division on the .5 miles (0.80 km) oval at Roger William's Park. On August 31, 1888, he made a successful attempt to "lower the bicycle record" over Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island. The total distance was about 10.5 miles (16.9 km) which he covered in 41:05, beating the previous record by five seconds.

By late September 1888, he participated in the bicycle tournament at Narragansett Park in connection with the Rhode Island fair which was "the most successful of its kind" ever held in Providence, Rhode Island and hosted by the League of American Wheelmen. The fair drew over a thousand spectators and Van Wagoner on a "Star pony" climbed College Hill to the university, something never before accomplished. He ascended and descended ten times and "was cheered by a great crowd."

The Cottage City, Maryland, annual races were held on August 10, 1889, on a course around Island Park and a distance of .16 miles (0.26 km). Two of the lower turns were so short as to "make speeding around them highly dangerous." The asphalt paving was not in the best of condition; however, under the circumstances "excellent time was made." Several thousand people witnessed the races and crowded upon the course, much to the discomfort and danger of the racers. The principal event was the 1 mile (1.6 km) race for the championship of the meet. Van Wagoner was a starter along with F. A. Delabarre, who won the race. Van Wagoner was "looked upon as a sure winner, and so he seemed, until the final lap" when he was overtaken by Delabarre. Final times were 2:49 for first prize gold medal and 2:52 for second prize silver."

He raced in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 27, 1889, in the Charter Hill Meet hosted by the Hartford Wheel Club, with 295 participants. Among the "notables" were Hendee and Ives. Van Wagoner and others "from Boston and that way" were among the riders. He raced in the "5 miles (8.0 km) lap" and the "1 mile (1.6 km) tandem safety handicap."

By September 1, 1889, he was in training with W. S. Doane for the race from Newport to Boston on September 28. On November 6, 1889, Van Wagoner arranged a 5 miles (8.0 km) bicycle race in Newport, Rhode Island, and donated the prizes. There were only four participants and the winner, Arthur Cummings, received a gold medal. He also won the .25 miles (0.40 km) spurt and won a bicycle saddle. The second prize was a tool bag worth three dollars.

By late August 1889, Van Wagoner participated in a bicycle race in New Hartford, Connecticut, where he rode in both the 5 miles (8.0 km) lap and the 1 mile (1.6 km) tandem safety handicap. During the early days, Van Wagoner rode an Eagle safety high wheel bicycle. In November of that year, he was busy planning a 100 miles (160 km) event in Newport in May 1890.

In June 1890, Van Wagoner competed in a 100 miles (160 km) race in Chicago and came in second place. He lost by 2 feet (0.61 m) to F. E. Spooner.

On June 7, 1890, he was second by a mere 2 feet (0.61 m), against Spooner, in Chicago at the Exposition building. It was a 100 miles (160 km) race and Spooner made the distance in five hours and thirty nine minutes, breaking his previous record by over ten minutes.

On September 2, 1890, he raced in the 3 miles (4.8 km) lap in Hartford, Connecticut in the Harford Wheel Club tournament on Charter Oak Park track. He won the event. There were ten events and 3,000 spectators who "applauded the plucky riders' brave efforts."

During September 1890, Van Wagoner participated in a bicycle contest in Reading, Pennsylvania, in an attempt to break the world's record of 21 miles (34 km) in 75 minutes. He won the race and covered the distance in 67 minutes. There were 20 starters including several of the best riders. By November 1890, he was a member of the Somerville Cycle Club in Somerville, Massachusetts.

The races continued into September 1891, when he participated in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the "biggest tournament this country has ever seen."

The relay bicycle riders left Springfield 44 minutes ahead of schedule in Palmer, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1893. The run from Warren to Palmer was made by Williamson and Van Wagoner in 43:29, less than expected time. Van Wagoner was picked up in Palmer by Nelson who accompanied him to Springfield. According to the local press; "Van Wagoner passed through like a flash, and many who were out to see him failed to look quick enough."

On June 11, 1893, Van Wagoner participated in the Grand Race Meeting in Lynn, Massachusetts, and filed an entry in the race that was hosted by the Lynn bicycle park on June 17 where he raced in the "2 miles (3.2 km) lap" and "2 miles (3.2 km) handicap." That same day he was riding with the Springfield Bicycle Club in the "1 mile (1.6 km) open", "1 mile (1.6 km) handicap" and ".33 miles (0.53 km) dash" events hosted by the Waltham cycle club in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The top cyclers in the area participated in Richfield Springs, New York, on July 8, 1893, at the meeting of the Waiontha Bicycle Club. The first event of the day was the 25 miles (40 km) road race. The race was considered an opportunity for Van Wagoner and fellow biker, William H. Wells, both of the Century Cycling Club pitted against the Syracuse Athlete Association members which included John Wilkinson, C. Arthur Benjamin, C. C. Brown, John H. Gardner, C. F. Ackerman and captain, Harry R. Snell.

Van Wagoner rode in the 100 miles (160 km) race at Newark, New Jersey, on July 15, 1893, for the Syracuse Athletic Association. He ran into problems 42 miles (68 km) out after he had "passed dozens of low handicap men and was coming up with the leaders" when he got a punctured tire and it put him out of the race. This was very unfortunate for him, as he rode for the first time under the "red and white" and also as a Stearns racer. He left the next week for a race in Detroit, Michigan.

Syracuse Herald Bicycle Race on September 15, 1894

Syracuse athletic association

John Wilkinson of Syracuse Athletic Association no longer holds the 10 miles (16 km) road record over the Cicero course on the Cicero Plank Road. On July 19, 1893, Van Wagoner made a new record by riding the distance in 31:03, reducing Wilkinson's record by 12 seconds. It was a "great feat" as the wind was blowing stiff from the north. The local newspaper referred to Van Wagoner as "probably the best road rider in America today."

On August 7, 1893, Roy S. Smith awarded Van Wagoner the time prize of the Century Road Club race.

Barnes Bicycle Advertisement in April 1896

The eighth annual Labor Day meet hosted by the Syracuse Athletic Club on September 4, 1893 had two "special features and proved very interesting." Van Wagoner of the Syracuse Athletic Club, rode 1 mile (1.6 km) against time with hands off in an effort to lower the world's record of 2:38. "He succeeded admirably," making the 1 mile (1.6 km) in 2:29. He rode with his arms folded behind him and his wheel was as "straight and accurate as many good men ride with hands on." The performance took place on the .5 miles (0.80 km) track at the State Fair grounds which "was in excellent shape" and was loudly applauded by a crowd of 5,000.

In late October 1893, the Century run of the Century Road Club to Utica and back was made by 12 men. Van Wagoner was considered the best road rider in the city and broke the record made by John Wilkinson the past week riding the distance in three minute less time than Wilkinson.

On May 25, 1894, he was racing for the Syracuse Athletic Association in the Martin road race in Buffalo, New York and was the only Syracusan in the event.

By June 15, 1894, a 12 miles (19 km) bicycle road race, sponsored by the League of American Wheelmen State was held in Lockport, New York. The race was won by A. A. Price, captain of the Lockport Wheelmen at a time of 37:33 with a 05:30 minute handicap, however, Van Wagoner, racing for Syracuse, won the time prize in 32:13.

Barnes cycle company

William Van Wagoner builds the "Double Quint" in February 1896

Van Wagoner designed bicycles for the Barnes Cycle Company in Syracuse and by 1895 was known as a tandem builder. According to the daily newspaper on June 23, 1895; "Von Wagoner was born in advance of his age. It is highly probable that the fertile brain of Van Wagoner, who designed so many new model bicycles, will create a good many improvements to show the public when next year's model is put upon the market." At that time, he was building a machine for his own personal use that was considered "a novelty in bicycle construction."

On August 4, 1895, Van Wagoner announced that he had almost completed the new 42 pound double diamond frame "white flyer" tandem which he and his wife were using to take a month's 1,000 miles (1,600 km) tour of New England in September of that year. He had made "excellent tandems" in his time and each one he turned out was better than the previous.

In February 1896, while working at the Syracuse firm, Van Wagoner designed a "10-seated machine" called a "double quint" which was built for ten of the fastest professionals to pace Eddie Bald, a renowned cyclist who was known as the "White Flyer" in the record books.

By February 1897, Van Wagoner was superintendent of Barnes Cycle Company and attended the New York Auto Show along with company manager Arthur R. Peck and general traveling agent C. Arthur Benjamin. The "splendid" decorations from the recent Chicago Auto Show exhibit were employed with additional "attractive features" at the New York show. Also in attendance were traveling representative, Fred Peck and "White Flyer" Bald, "Rastus on Parade" who had many admirers in New York.

"The fact is, the Barnes Cycle Company leads the wheel manufacturing world in matters of improvements. Compare our 1897 model with that of other makes. In grace of line or mathematical correctness of construction see how they differ.

We are not afraid of such a test. There are no better wheels than the Barnes and few that begin to be as good. Local agency, Saul Building on James Street. 1897 advertisement - Syracuse Daily Standard"

William Van Wagoner in September 1897

While he was superintendent of Barnes Cycle Company in September 1897, Van Wagoner had an accident sail boating on Seneca Lake, but was not injured. On the spot where he was "spilled into the lake", fourteen accidents had already happened. He had been out sailing and was unacquainted with the treacherous nature of the lake. A heavy wind and rainstorm came up and overturned his boat. He clung to the bottom of the boat and people on the shore who witnessed his distress, sent out a tug to pick him up. According to the local newspaper in Geneva, New York, "Mr. Van Wagoner did not seem in the least disturbed over his narrow escape. He was smoking his cigar coolly in front of the hotel last evening and was made a hero of by the small boys." He was considered a "very popular young man" in Syracuse and was traveling with his wife.

Electric and gasoline automobiles

William Van Wagoner and Charles F. Saul finished an experimental machine and began production of a "full line" of both electric and gasoline propelled automobiles. The firm was planning to begin production in late August 1899 and employed "100 hands." Saul was a well-known carriage builder and president of the Barnes Cycle Company where Van Wagoner was superintendent.

The firm had built several experimental wagons during the prior two years, starting in 1897. An "electric wagon" was completed in mid-August 1899 and "put to the streets" that very week. According to the business partners, "It has been tested daily and gives its manufacturers complete satisfaction."

Century motor vehicle company

Century Steam Surrey - C. R. Woodlin and WIlliam Van Wagoner in 1901

By May 21, 1901, Van Wagoner was manager of the Century Motor Vehicle Company in Syracuse. He took a trip to Auburn, New York, on May 27, 1902, in a vehicle he designed that was manufactured by the company and was joined on that "unpleasant day" by John Maxwell, casket manufacturer from Oneida, New York. Van Wagoner's goal was to try for a record of a mile in 58 seconds.

Personal life

William Van Wagoner was musically inclined and "gave two vocal selections" during the wedding of a close friend, Stephen Bastable, who married Veronica Gardner Stafford on June 25, 1901. By May 1902, he sang in a musical hosted by Louise Wilkins and Florence Quinn.

He was married in 1893 to Blanche Viola Marshall, who was born in January 1870 in Connecticut. She was the daughter of Alexander Marshall and Mary E. Studvvell. During the 1900 census, he was living at 511 Park Avenue in Syracuse with his wife and listed his occupation as "manager bicycle manufacturer."

During the 1910 census, the couple were living in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He listed his occupation as "mechanical." He was still living in Bridgeport during the 1920 census and was a widower.

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