Floyd Clymer’s obsession with all things automotive was not unusual for a young man during the first years of the 20th century. What was unusual was his entrepreneurial spirit made manifest in the establishment of a successful automotive dealership before reaching his teens and inspiring exploits such as participating in a cross country race from Denver to Spokane with his older brother at age nine.
The period between 1885 and 1930 was an era of unprecedented transformation. Not a single aspect of American society was untouched. Swashbuckling entrepreneurs were building industrial empires by manufacturing what had not existed five years prior. The owners of electric taxi cabs and buses competed with the owners of horse drawn hansom cabs. As late as 1916 in northwestern Arizona, teamsters with 20-mule teams and drivers of stagecoaches shared the road with an ever growing number of “automobilists.” Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior, was photographed in a Cadillac. Blacksmiths became auto mechanics and livery stables transitioned into auto dealerships.
In the late 19th century, the exploits of Buffalo Bill Cody chronicled in dime novels ignited the imagination of boys who dreamed of adventure on the western prairies. By the early 20th century Cody was the owner of a Michigan roadster, and a vocal member of the growing Good Roads movement. The boys with an adventuresome spirit were now young men who through their exploits with automobiles inspired a new generation. One of these young men was Floyd Clymer.
Clymer was born in 1895 but his family relocated to Berthoud, Colorado shortly after the turn of the century. In 1902, Clymer’s father, a doctor, purchased a one cylinder Curved Dash Oldsmobile, the first automobile in this frontier era mining camp. At age seven his father yielded to young Clymer’s persistent pleading and taught him to drive the Olds. In 1904, Clymer and his younger brother participated in the first Reliability Run from Denver to Spokane, a grueling test of man and machine. Near destruction of the Flanders 20 thwarted the brothers successful completion of the race.
Incredibly, at age ten, with his fathers full support and financial backing, Clymer began buying and selling cars. His endeavor proved so successful that his father allowed his son to set up an office in what was formerly a dentist’s office and establish Berthound Auto Co. that specialized in Maxwell and Cadillac, and later REO cars. Needless to say, these manufacturers took notice when they learned that it was young Clymer, not his father, that sold twenty six vehicles in two years. Motor Field, an early publication for automobile enthusiasts, ran an article on Clymer, “the Kid Agent,” in their February 1907 issue. Clymer shrewdly used the article as a sales pitch and claimed, “I can supply your wants in repairs and supplies, and can save you money.” A man who sold everything on the hog including the squeal, Clymer later reprinted the entire issue after the magazine folded and sold copies for one dollar.
A few years later Clymer turned his attention to motorcycles and purchases a Yale and Thomas Auto-Bi, both manufactured in California. In 1912, he won his first amateur bike race in Boulder, Colorado. In 1916, he won the very first Pike’s Peak Hill Climb with an Excelsior. This endeavor led to an offer from Harley Davidson and Clymer becoming a member of the company’s factory racing team. Building on his fame, Clymer moved to Greeley, Colorado and opened up a shop to sell and service motorcycles.
The next chapter in the Clymer story was written in Denver when he established Floyd Clymer, Inc., the largest distributor of Indian, Excelsior and Henderson bikes in the western United States. This was followed by relocation to Los Angeles, purchasing Al Crocker’s West Coast Indian distributorship and the launching of a mail order parts business.
During World War II, Clymer launched a new business endeavor that was built on his collection of vintage automotive sales literature and photographs. Published in 1944, Floyd Clymer’s Historical Motor Scrapbook featured advertisements and period articles from two hundred fifty brass era vehicle manufacturers. With favorable reviews from publications such as Time, book sales exceeded expectations. This would serve as the foundation for what would become the largest publisher of automotive books.
In the 1960s, Clymer once again turned his entrepreneurial abilities toward motorcycles and established himself as a distributor of the German-built Munch Mammoth IV, a $4,000 motorcycle that he promoted and marketed as the “Ferrari of motorcycles.” During this period he also attempted to resurrect Indian motorcycles. The final page of the amazing Clymer story was written in 1970 when he succumbed to a heart attack.
It is human nature to seek adventure, even if it is through vicarious means. The recent “Storm Area 51” tsunami on social media networks is one example. A few, however, prefer to live the adventure and provide the inspiration for making the most of every day.
If this story piqued your interest I know you will enjoy my latest presentation, In The Beginning! I am now scheduling appearances for fall and winter.