Collection on Barney Oldfield

Biographical / Historical Note

"You know me, Barney Oldfield," was the classic catch phrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures and during the nascent period of the automobile most every American knew Berna Eli Oldfield. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs

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"You know me, Barney Oldfield," was the classic catch phrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures and during the nascent period of the automobile most every American knew Berna Eli Oldfield. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs in Toledo earning money to buy his own bicycle to ride in local and regional road and endurance races barnstorming with bicycle racing teams throughout the Midwest.

During the winter of 1899, Oldfield reconnected with an old racing companion, Tom Cooper, who had just returned from England with a motorized two-wheeler (an early motorcycle). Cooper was going to demonstrate the vehicle at a race in Grosse Point, Michigan in October 1901 and asked Oldfield to come along. Cooper and Oldfield were a preliminary exhibition before the main event: a race between local "chauffeur," Henry Ford, and the most well-known automobile manufacturer of the day, Alexander Winton. After touring western states with the motorized bicycle, Oldfield returned to Detroit in the fall of 1902 at the request of Tom Cooper to drive a racecar. "The Race" between Cooper's 999, recently purchased from Henry Ford and driven by Oldfield, and Alexander Winton's "Bullet" captured the imaginations of not only Detroit's automotive elite, but the mass of people as well. When Oldfield piloted the 999 to victory over Winton's sputtering Bullet, the news spread like wildfire across Detroit, the Midwest, and eventually the nation.

Over the next 15 years, Barney Oldfield set multiple world speed records and gained notoriety wherever he went. After a brief stint driving for Winton, Oldfield took the wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" and established himself as America's premier driver claiming world records in the 1, 9, 10, 25, and 50-mile speed categories. In addition to entering 20 to 30 races and exhibitions a year, Oldfield also found time to appear on Broadway and in silent movies. Oldfield flaunted the conventions of his time both on and off the track and was sanctioned by the American Automobile Association for several years. In order to keep racing, Oldfield and his manager set up exhibitions at county and state fairs across the country holding, 3-heat matches against a traveling stable of paid drivers. Oldfield padded his reputation by adding an element of drama to these events by losing the first match, barely winning the second, and after theatrical tweaking and cajoling of his engine, winning the third match.

Barney Oldfield retired from competitive racing in 1918 although in typical Oldfield fashion, his final race was under suspension by the AAA. Oldfield continued to keep himself at the fore of America's sports entertainment culture with ceremonial "referee" jobs at various races and rubbing elbows with American movie, stage and music stars. Barney Oldfield's last public appearance was at the May 1946 Golden Jubilee of the Automobile Industry held in Detroit. Oldfield shared the main speaker's table with automotive icons including Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Frank Duryea and accepted a "trophy of progress" for his role in automotive history. Barney Oldfield passed away in October, 1946.

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Scope and Content Note

The Collection on Barney Oldfield consists of photographic prints, advertisements, postcards, promotional brochures, and event tickets highlighting various races and exhibitions in which Barney Oldfield participated. The Photographic Prints series, circa...

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The Collection on Barney Oldfield consists of photographic prints, advertisements, postcards, promotional brochures, and event tickets highlighting various races and exhibitions in which Barney Oldfield participated. The Photographic Prints series, circa 1902-1936, contains photographic prints of Barney posing in various race cars or with other drivers. The Printed Material series, circa 1895-1949, consists of printed matter related to races and exhibitions. The series includes advertisements, clippings, correspondence and event tickets. Researchers should note that individual object identification numbers are included in the inventory below. These items are available for viewing at http://collections.thehenryford.org/index.aspx.

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Collection Details

Object ID: 2005.108.0
Creator: Henry Ford (Organization). Benson Ford Research Center 
Inclusive Dates: 1895-1949
Size: 1 oversize box
Language: English

Collection Access & Use

Item Location: Not Currently On Exhibit

Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research.

Credit: From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Related Objects

World's Track Award Won by Barney Oldfield, 1903

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Tribune "Blue Streak" Bicycle, Used by Barney Oldf...

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Digitized Artifacts From This Collection

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Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz," Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

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Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz," Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic postcard

Summary

On March 16, 1910, Barney Oldfield sped down the ocean-washed sands at Daytona Beach, Florida. Piloting the "Lightning Benz," Oldfield topped 131 miles per hour to set a new one-mile, world's speed record -- topping the previous mark of 127.6 mph. A week later, the speedster broke the two miles and one kilometer speed records in the same vehicle.

Object ID

2005.108.19

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz," Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

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Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz" next to Ralph DePalma in a Fiat, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

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Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz" next to Ralph DePalma in a Fiat, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

16 March 1910

Summary

On March 16, 1910, Barney Oldfield sped down the ocean-washed sands at Daytona Beach, Florida. Piloting the "Lightning Benz," Oldfield topped 131 miles per hour to set a new one-mile, world's speed record -- topping the previous mark of 127.6 mph. A week later, the speedster broke the two miles and one kilometer speed records in the same vehicle.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.18

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield in "Lightning Benz" next to Ralph DePalma in a Fiat, Daytona Beach, Florida, March 16, 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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Letter from R. D. Merrill to Barney Oldfield, January 18, 1934

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Letter from R. D. Merrill to Barney Oldfield, January 18, 1934

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Artifact

Letter (Correspondence)

Date Made

18 January 1934

Summary

R. D. Merrill owned a lightweight bicycle. Each night he stored it at his Toledo, Ohio, hotel, where he was a tenant in the 1890s. Merrill was unaware, however, that a teenaged bellhop "borrowed" the two-wheeler at night to train -- it was always returned. The young hotel worker -- Barney Oldfield -- later turned his passion for speed to race cars and became an automobile racing legend.

Object ID

2005.108.17

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Letter from R. D. Merrill to Barney Oldfield, January 18, 1934

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Barney Oldfield's Admittance Card to Bicycle Track at Toledo Exposition Grounds, Toledo, Ohio, 1895

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Barney Oldfield's Admittance Card to Bicycle Track at Toledo Exposition Grounds, Toledo, Ohio, 1895

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Artifact

Ticket

Date Made

1895

Summary

Automobile racing legend Barney Oldfield began his career on two wheels. In 1894, the sixteen-year-old Ohioan entered his first bicycle competition -- he finished second. Oldfield later purchased this pass to train at the bicycle track on the Toledo Exposition Grounds. Over the next several years, the young cyclist traveled around the states winning a number of races.

Creators

Unknown 

Place of Creation

United States, Ohio, Toledo 

Object ID

2005.108.9

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield's Admittance Card to Bicycle Track at Toledo Exposition Grounds, Toledo, Ohio, 1895

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Endorsement for Kitchel's Liniment, Showing Barney Oldfield Riding a Bicycle, 1896

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Endorsement for Kitchel's Liniment, Showing Barney Oldfield Riding a Bicycle, 1896

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Advertisement

Date Made

1896

Summary

Automobile racing legend Barney Oldfield began his racing career on two wheels. In 1894, the sixteen-year-old Ohioan entered his first bicycle race -- he finished second. Over the next several years, the young cyclist competed in a number of competitions throughout the country. The budding showman also found time to promote various products, like Kitchel's Liniment.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.11

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Endorsement for Kitchel's Liniment, Showing Barney Oldfield Riding a Bicycle, 1896

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Barney Oldfield and Cyclist on an Orient Motorized Tandem Bicycle, 1902

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Barney Oldfield and Cyclist on an Orient Motorized Tandem Bicycle, 1902

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Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1902

Summary

Barney Oldfield loved to go fast. As a teenager in the late 1890s, Oldfield pedaled sleek, lightweight bicycles -- winning many competitions. But that was not fast enough. For a brief time he competed on motorized bicycles -- like this tandem. But there was something even faster -- race cars. In October 1902, the fearless Ohioan piloted the Henry Ford-designed race car "999" to victory.

Object ID

2005.108.10

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield and Cyclist on an Orient Motorized Tandem Bicycle, 1902

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Barney Oldfield Driving the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

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Barney Oldfield Driving the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

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Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

circa 1905

Summary

From 1904 to 1908, Barney Oldfield drove the Peerless "Green Dragon" at race meets and exhibition events throughout the United States. Some of these competitions took place at local horse tracks. This photograph shows the cigar-chomping racer speeding down a dirt-covered raceway.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.16

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield Driving the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

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What is The Henry Ford?

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  Details

Barney Oldfield Behind the Wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

  Details

Barney Oldfield Behind the Wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

circa 1905

Summary

From 1904 to 1908, Barney Oldfield drove the Peerless "Green Dragon" at race meets and exhibition events throughout the United States. Some of these competitions took place at local horse tracks. This photograph shows the cigar-chomping racer posing on a dirt-covered track.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.15

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield Behind the Wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Barney Oldfield and the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

  Details

Barney Oldfield and the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

circa 1905

Summary

From 1904 to 1908, Barney Oldfield drove the Peerless "Green Dragon" at race meets and exhibition events throughout the United States. This photograph shows the race car being examined by onlookers at a local dirt track.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.14

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Barney Oldfield and the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details