Reflecting bygone Times: San Francisco International Introduces America’s First Motorcycles – The Moodie Davitt Report


UNITED STATES. An exhibit exploring the history and development of motorcycles has opened at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

the OFS Museum The exhibition, in the international departures terminal, began on February 11 and will run until September 19, 2021.

According to the organizers of the exhibition, the first American motorcycles “reflect a bygone era of mechanical innovation and daring industrial design.” They are treasured by collectors around the world and displayed at vintage rides, endurance races and special events.

The exhibition features fourteen “exceptional” examples made before 1916, as well as a collection of rare engines and photographs from the pioneering era of motorcycles.

It follows the development of the motorcycle – “one of the oldest and most exciting applications of another new invention, the gasoline internal combustion engine” – from the years 1890 to 1915. The exhibition highlights the advancement in motorcycle technology during this period and the evolution of riding “from a novelty, to a hobby, sport and a reliable source of transportation”.

Augusta and Adeline Van Buren on Indian motorcycles in Tijuana, Mexico 1916 [Courtesy of Bob and Rhonda Van Buren and Cris Sommer Simmons, The American Motorcycle Girls]

Charles Henshaw and Oscar Hedstrom on a Hedstrom Motor-Pacer [Courtesy of Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History]

As the presentation emphasizes, “motorcycling at the start of the 20th century has always been an adventure”.

“Road conditions were generally poor and hitting a pothole or other hazard on a motorcycle supported by a primitive rigid spring suspension could easily throw a rider off the bike.”

He also emphasizes the need for “athletic ability” to start and operate these machines and that motorcyclists had to be mechanically minded to keep them in working order.

The Flying Merkel racing twin dates from 1912 [Courtesy of Dave Scoffone]

The 1914 Jefferson twin-cylinder pilot (left) and the 1910 Harley-Davidson Model 6 are both featured in the exhibit [ Courtesy of Dave Scoffone]

Early American Motorcycles is one of many exhibits that run for limited periods at the SFO Museum. Others include Hair style, Rock ‘n’ Roll instrumental, Paula riff, Amelia Konow and San Francisco University School of Art Alternative Process.

The Hair Style exhibition, at OFS level 2 departures, will run until August 22

The airport also offers a wide range of permanent exhibits which include Pan American Airways, Harvey Milk ‘Messenger of Hope’ and Spirogyrate, an interactive exploration area for kids featuring works by Bay Area artist Eric Staller.

The SFO Museum, a division of San Francisco International Airport, is a multi-faceted program with rotating exhibits on a wide variety of topics and interactive play areas featured in the terminals.

Its mission is to “delight, engage and inspire a global audience”; collect, preserve, interpret and share the history of commercial aviation and enrich the public experience at San Francisco International Airport.


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