Marshall W. “Major” Taylor was the fastest bicyclist in the world. Thousands of fans packed indoor sports arenas called velodromes to watch his high-speed races. Taylor won thousands of dollars as a bicycle racer and became the most famous African-American in the United States. He broke the international color barrier a full decade before boxer Jack Johnson. Newspapers dubbed Taylor a “cycling wonder,” and over the next two decades, he became one of the world’s most successful racers, capturing the most coveted of all records, the one-mile sprint. Throughout his career, Taylor challenged the discrimination he encountered. He became a pioneering role model for other athletes facing discriminatory treatment. Racial prejudice of the time barred him from competing in white races. Hostile competitors showed unsportsmanlike conduct, taking any opportunity to stop him from competing, including inflicting harm. Newspapers often defended his right to race, and managers supported him as a great cyclist and as a man. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are provided when available.
To read about his life in his own words, check out Taylor’s autobiography:
And a great number of books written about Taylor are available in the Library’s collections, including recent comic acquisition:
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|1895||Mr. Thomas Hay, the owner of a bicycle shop called Hay & Willits, in Indianapolis, Indiana took notice of young Taylor's cycling abilities and paid him to perform cycling tricks outside the store in order to drum up business. Often donning a military uniform (his father fought for the Union in the Civil War), Taylor came to be better known as “Major.”|
Taylor wins his first race, a 75-mile road race from Indianapolis, Indiana to Matthews, Indiana at the age of 16.
|1895||Taylor relocates to Worcester, Massachusetts.|
|1896||Under the tutelage of bicycle racing pioneer, Louis D. “Birdie” Munge Taylor qualified for his first professional race, the 1896 Six-Day Bicycle Race in Madison Square Garden, one of the country’s biggest sporting events. Despite competing with riders with much more age and experience (Taylor was only eighteen), he came in eighth place.|
|1899||Taylor is named world champion in cycling and American sprint champion.|
|1900||Taylor is named American sprint champion for the second year in a row.|
|1901||Taylor travels the world, facing the fastest cyclists and wins most of the races he entered.|
|1901||Taylor returns to Madison Square Garden and was declared “Champion Indoor Bicycle Rider of America” in 1901.|
|1902||Taylor marries Daisy Morris.|
|1910||Taylor retires from professional cycling at age 32. At the time, he was regarded as the most prominent, “best trained and swiftest cyclist”, and the most well-known celebrity bicycle racer.|