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

In many cases, not all artifacts have been digitized.
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Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey Racing, Columbus, Ohio, 1914

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Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey Racing, Columbus, Ohio, 1914

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Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1914

Summary

In this photograph from 1914 Barney Oldfield races his car against an airplane flown by Lincoln Beachey. Each man was renowned for either his racing or flying skill. Oldfield and Beachey partnered to perform daring feats throughout the country, selling tickets to eager spectators wanting to see these modern machines and to be entertained.

Object ID

2005.108.1

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 Lincoln Beachey Racing, Columbus, Ohio, 1914

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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

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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

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Barney Oldfield and Former Boxing Champion Jim Jeffries in "Blitzen Benz," 1910

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Barney Oldfield and Former Boxing Champion Jim Jeffries in "Blitzen Benz," 1910

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Artifact

Photographic postcard

Date Made

1910

Summary

In 1910, Barney Oldfield piloted the "Blitzen Benz." This powerful, German-made machine was built for speed. With Oldfield behind the wheel, the vehicle broke numerous track records throughout the year, including the world's land speed record. This photo shows the auto-racing legend behind the wheel with former boxing champion Jim Jeffries.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.20

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 Former Boxing Champion Jim Jeffries in "Blitzen Benz," 1910

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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Barney Oldfield and Advertising Poster Outside a Chrysler Dealership, circa 1936

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Barney Oldfield and Advertising Poster Outside a Chrysler Dealership, circa 1936

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Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

circa 1936

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

Krupnick, Lee 

Object ID

2005.108.23

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 Advertising Poster Outside a Chrysler Dealership, circa 1936

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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

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Artifact

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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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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

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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

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Ticket for the Beachey vs. Oldfield Racing Competition, "Championship of the Universe," Oakland, California, 1914

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Ticket for the Beachey vs. Oldfield Racing Competition, "Championship of the Universe," Oakland, California, 1914

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Artifact

Ticket

Date Made

1914

Summary

Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey partnered in 1914 and held exhibition races for eager spectators. Oldfield drove his race car while above Beachey flew his plane. This promotional ticket features images of both daredevils and claimed that the race was for the "Championship of Universe."

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

2005.108.6

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

Ticket for the Beachey vs. Oldfield Racing Competition, "Championship of the Universe," Oakland, California, 1914

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