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: Benson Ford Research Center

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

In many cases, not all artifacts have been digitized.
Contact us for more information about this collection.

Anita King Introducing Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

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Anita King Introducing Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1917

Summary

Film star and daredevil Anita King introduces racing hero Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway in 1917. Behind them is Oldfield's streamlined race car, the Miller Golden Submarine. The two celebrities acted in some of the same movies and made publicity appearances together. King "lovingly" autographed this photograph for Oldfield.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.4

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

Anita King Introducing Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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Anita King with Barney Oldfield, Receiving Trophy at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

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Anita King with Barney Oldfield, Receiving Trophy at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1917

Summary

Film star and daredevil Anita King receives a trophy alongside racing hero Barney Oldfield (in white shirt) at Ascot Speedway in 1917. Behind them is Oldfield's streamlined race car, the Miller Golden Submarine. The two celebrities acted in some of the same movies and made publicity appearances together. King autographed this photograph for Oldfield, calling herself his "partner in crime."

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.2

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

Anita King with Barney Oldfield, Receiving Trophy at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

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

Anita King with Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

  Details

Anita King with Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1917

Summary

Film star and daredevil Anita King poses with racing hero Barney Oldfield in front of his streamlined race car, the Miller Golden Submarine. The two celebrities were well acquainted. They acted in some of the same movies and made several public appearances together.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.3

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

Anita King with Barney Oldfield at Ascot Speedway, Los Angeles, California, 1917

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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Barney Oldfield Advertising Card for Plymouth Automobile "Olite Springs," circa 1935

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Barney Oldfield Advertising Card for Plymouth Automobile "Olite Springs," circa 1935

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Advertising card

Date Made

circa 1935

Summary

Barney Oldfield found ways to stay in the public spotlight well after his last professional race in 1918. The showman attended and refereed racing meets, ran a tire company, drove a tractor faster than a mile a minute, and appeared in movies and on the radio. In the mid-1930s, Oldfield joined with Plymouth to promote the car's performance and safety features.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.24

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 Advertising Card for Plymouth Automobile "Olite Springs," circa 1935

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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Barney Oldfield Advertising Postcard for Plymouth Automobiles, circa 1935

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Barney Oldfield Advertising Postcard for Plymouth Automobiles, circa 1935

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Postcard

Summary

Barney Oldfield found ways to stay in the public spotlight well after his last professional race in 1918. The showman attended and refereed racing meets, ran a tire company, drove a tractor faster than a mile a minute, and appeared in movies and on the radio. In the mid-1930s, Oldfield joined with Plymouth to promote the car's performance and safety features.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.25

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 Advertising Postcard for Plymouth Automobiles, circa 1935

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 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 Driving the "Blitzen Benz" Car on a Racetrack, 1910

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Barney Oldfield Driving the "Blitzen Benz" Car on a Racetrack, 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1910

Summary

In 1910, Barney Oldfield piloted the "Blitzen Benz." This powerful, German-made machine was built for speed. In March, the existing world's land speed record fell as the race car -- then named "Lightning Benz" -- bolted down the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida at over 131 miles per hour. With Oldfield behind the wheel, the vehicle broke numerous track records throughout the year.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.21

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 "Blitzen Benz" Car on a Racetrack, 1910

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

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

  Details

Barney Oldfield Driving 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 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

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

Barney Oldfield Greeting a "Safety First" Dog, New Jersey, 1936

  Details

Barney Oldfield Greeting a "Safety First" Dog, New Jersey, 1936

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Barney Oldfield remained active in racing and the automotive industry after his last professional race in 1918. The showman attended and refereed racing meets, ran a tire company, drove a tractor faster than a mile a minute, test drove vehicles and appeared in movies. In the 1930s, Oldfield--who survived several racing accidents and had lost racetrack colleagues--campaigned for safe driving.

Creators

Unknown 

Place of Creation

United States, New Jersey 

Object ID

2005.108.22

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 Greeting a "Safety First" Dog, New Jersey, 1936

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