Today in African-American Transportation History – 1904: A Champion Cyclist Rebounds from Serious Injuries to Win Again

Marshall W. “Major” Taylor (1878-1932), the first African-American to become a world-champion cyclist, departed the Australian city of Melbourne via train during the course of his second racing tour in the Land Down Under. (His first tour in Australia took place the previous year.) The Indiana-born Taylor had launched his professional cycling career at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1896. By the end of 1898, Taylor had established seven world cycling records; the following year, he achieved both national and international championship titles.  His reputation as a formidable cyclist was cemented even further during the early years of the 20th century when he traveled well beyond the United States to compete in France, New Zealand, and Australia.

Taylor left Melbourne on February 26, 1904, however, in less-than-optimal condition due to serious injuries he incurred while racing there. This incident occurred at an evening event on February 17, when fellow American cyclist Iver Lawson caused Taylor to fall off his bicycle during a race. It could not be readily determined if the mishap was brought about intentionally or out of carelessness, but in any case the Swedish-born Lawson was disqualified from professional competitions for a year.

Taylor, for his part, had to deal with the injuries resulting from the fall and what they might mean for the rest of his time in Australia. “Taylor is more seriously injured than was at first supposed,” reported the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay & Burnett Advertiser the day after the accident, “and it will be at least three weeks before he will have sufficiently recovered to enable him to go on a bicycle.”

This pessimistic outlook remained intact on the Friday that Taylor headed out of Melbourne. “The champion can hardly be in a fit condition to race and do any justice to his great reputation,” asserted the Sydney Morning Herald in an article about his departure from Melbourne and his stop the following day in the city of Adelaide. This article also struck a decidedly more hopeful note, however, by stating that Taylor was “mending very quickly,” and that a test of his ongoing recovery would take place at a weekend competition in Adelaide.

Taylor ended up not only participating in that event but exceeding widespread expectations in the aftermath of what had happened to him in Melbourne. “He competed at the concluding meeting of the League of Wheelmen’s Carnival in the Adelaide Oval in the afternoon, and finished first in two occasions out of four starts,” reported the Adelaide-based Register. “A slight limp is the only outward evidence of his recent accident, and, but for that, Taylor is in excellent health.” As his overall performance in Adelaide made clear, Taylor not only triumphed over his injuries in Melbourne but would continue to thrive during the remainder of his second Australian tour.

For more information on Marshall W. “Major” Taylor, please check out

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