Major Taylor

3700 W Jackson Blvd Chicago

Design Museum of Chicago
Written By Design Museum of Chicago

The Design Museum of Chicago strengthens design culture and builds community by facilitating the exchange of knowledge through dynamic experiences. Through exhibitions, public and private programs, digital media, and workshops the museum facilitates an open conversation about design across disciplines and borders.

Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor (1878–1932) was born in Indianapolis. His father worked as a coachman for the white, wealthy Southard family, and Taylor became fast friends Dan Southard, a son his same age. At the age of 12, Taylor received his first bike from the Southards, and within 2 years was hired as a trick rider by a local bike shop.

With an exceptional amateur career, Taylor's move to the professional circuit was delayed by rampant racism in cycling organizations and the country as a whole. Turning pro at 18, he directly experienced much racism throughout his career, from being prohibited entry to races to actual assaults before, during, and after events.

Despite this emotional and mental toll, Taylor had great success as a professional as well. He competed in both sprints and 6 day races, winning the World Sprint Track Championship in 1899 and becoming the first African American to win a world championship event. (The very religious Taylor did not enter a world championship event again for many years as they were always held on Sundays, a day on which he would not race.) In 1899, Taylor also set the world record for a paced mile here at the Garfield Park Velodrome, riding 45.5 mph! The Garfield Park track was used for cycling and horse racing (horses on the outside, bikes on the inside), and at the time, was steeped in political graft. Today Garfield Park is known best for the Conservatory.

Taylor retired from racing in 1910, and his retirement was riddled with personal and professional difficulties. After suffering a heart attack in Chicago in 1932, he died and was buried in a pauper's grave in Mount Glenwood Cemetery. In 1948, a group of retired racers funded by Frank Schwinn organized the effort to relocate Taylor to a more prominent location in Mt. Greenwood where his legacy could be celebrated. Today, Major Taylor's legacy is beginning to receive the attention and recognition he deserves. He was inducted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989 and there are several locations bearing his name, including the Major Taylor Trail in Chicago. In 2018 Hennessy's Wild Rabbit campaign featured Major Taylor's story, airing on national TV spots and establishing partnerships which celebrate Taylor's achievements.

Keep Moving: Designing Chicago's Cycling History

Major Taylor

Cookie image

We use cookies on this website. You are free to manage these via your browser settings at any time. For more information about how we use cookies, please see our Privacy Policy.