In 1893, Hermann Klinsmann—a 23-year-old Rochesterite—picked an unusual place to try to set a record for the fastest half-mile in the history of bicycle racing: the horse-racing track at the Rochester fairgrounds.
“Everything was favorable, the riders in good condition and the track as smooth as a floor,” reported the Rochester Post newspaper. Other riders in the race included the state champion, Barney Bird, of St. Paul, and Klinsmann’s brother, Henry.
And, on that afternoon of July 15, 1893, Klinsmann raced around the turf track and not only beat all comers, but shattered the previous record for the distance.
The race was really no contest. “The half-mile open caused surprise in that Klinsmann won the race in a manner and time which has eclipsed any performance which has ever been seen on this track,” the newspaper reported. His winning time of 1:06.5 was claimed as a new world amateur record, two seconds faster than the previous mark.
“Klinsmann carried himself like a professional and gained the greatest applause,” the newspaper said. “When the time was announced the crowd in the amphitheater fairly went wild.”
Klinsmann, who was born June 19, 1871 in Rochester, first became interested in racing bicycles when he was working at the Charles Ozman and Son Hardware Company, which sold bicycles. He gave the sport a try, and in 1893, became a charter member and captain of the Wheelman of Rochester.
Rochester, in fact, was somewhat of a hotbed for bicycle riding. The Rochester Bicycle Club had been organized in 1883, and counted among its members Dr. Charles H. Mayo. Club members paraded through town on their bicycles once a week. It was an opportunity to show off the latest models—much like one would demonstrate a new horse-drawn cutter in snowy weather.
Such a parade, though, was a leisurely undertaking compared to what Klinsmann had in mind.
After his regular working day of 10 hours at the Ozman shop, Klinsmann would ride his bicycle to the fairgrounds track and begin his nightly training routine.
Mile after mile, Klinsmann raced around the track, “at a rate of speed which no local rider, with the exception of his brother, ever tried to follow,” reported the Rochester Post. “And even his brother usually chose to drop out after the first five or six miles of rapid riding.”
Obviously, Klinsmann was fast. He coupled that speed with endurance and tremendous strength. At the height of his racing success, Klinsmann weighed 209 pounds—heavy for a cyclist.
There was little doubt that Klinsmann was a finely tuned athlete. So he was more than ready that July afternoon of 1893. “Rochester had a number of speedy bicycle riders who were interested in staging a meet here at our fairgrounds,” Klinsmann recalled years later. “Riders came from all parts of the state.”
His record time over the half-mile that day made Klinsmann a national sensation in cycling. He turned professional with the E.C. Stearns racing team, based in Syracuse, N.Y.
“Tom Eck, the well-known manager, is training a young man at Syracuse whom he thinks will be able to best any of the fast cycle riders,” the New York Times reported on May 8, 1894. “His name is Hermann Klinsmann, and he hails from the west.”
The Times commented on Klinsmann’s size: “Wiry for such a big fellow, he is bound to become a remarkable rider.” Klinsmann was nicknamed “Eck’s Cyclone.”
The prediction that Klinsmann would break records soon came true. In a race billed as the world championship that summer in Toledo, Ohio, Klinsmann, riding a Barnes White Flyer bicycle, flew around the track in a new world record time for the mile of 1:50.4.
But as fast as Eck’s Cyclone arrived, he disappeared, at least from the national racing scene. Apparently, the loss of professional sponsorship caused Klinsmann to return to Rochester.
On the evening of Jan. 1, 1896, Klinsmann married Katherine Dore, a former clerk at Leet & Knowlton department store. After the ceremony, held in a parlor decorated with carnations, roses, seasonal green leaves and red berries, Klinsmann and his bride took up residence in the home he had built on College Hill.
While his days as a professional racer were over, Klinsmann continued to race in exhibitions and at county fairs. Meanwhile, he went into business with his brothers Henry and Otto. They formed the Klinsmann Company, which sold plumbing, heating, metal works, hardware … and bicycles.
On the afternoon of Dec. 18, 1901, fire broke out at the Klinsmann home at 822 W. College St. The fire wagon had a long pull up the hill, and when it finally arrived, the water pressure was not sufficient to douse the flames. The house was destroyed.
Around this time, the business partnership between the brothers dissolved, and Hermann carried on the dealership in heating and plumbing. He would continue as a successful salesman and engineer in heavy equipment and plumbing equipment for hospitals, hotels and municipalities for the rest of his career. In Rochester, he was a popular member of local lodges and civic organizations.
Katherine Klinsmann died in 1918. The couple had no children. In 1935, Klinsmann married the former Frieda Fenske, and the couple made their home on Third Street Southeast.
They were still living there in 1960, when Klinsmann entered the hospital with an undisclosed illness. When he died on Sept. 7, 1960, at the age of 89, the one-mile record he had set 66 years earlier was still on the books.