Archive for the ‘Flying Merkel’ Tag

More Flying Merkel v. Horse: Depreciation

Another element in the debate over whether a motorcycle or a horse is a more efficient means of conveyance for park police officers, which I introduced last week in a post about Flying Merkels, is the depreciation of each. I was forced to consider that by an entry in the Proceedings of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners for February 5, 1919.

In January of that year a hired horse pulling an ice scraper over the ice skating rink on Lake Harriet had plunged through the ice and drowned. The owner of the horse submitted a bill for $125 to the park board to compensate him for the loss, which the park board paid. But knowing that in 1911 a Flying Merkel had cost the park board $238.50, I wondered if the horse was maybe old and worn out. $125 doesn’t seem like much for a horse; the price must have reflected considerable depreciation. What would a used Flying Merkel have been worth? And were there children skating on the lake the day the horse broke through the ice? Did the ice crack like a pistol shot or simply submerge with a gurgle. Did the horse make a sound or did it confront death with equine-imity? The Flying Merkel would have sunk quickly and quietly—but wouldn’t have been worth a damn pulling an ice scraper.

David C. Smith

The Flying Merkel: Minneapolis Park Police Motorcycles

When the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners decided to purchase motorcycles they went with the best. On March 20, 1911 the park board approved the purchase of four “Flying Merkel” motorcycles. The specifications included “four horsepower with magneto and belt drive” at a cost of $238.50 each.

Almost like flying. This image is from, a web site loaded with info on one of the premier early motorcycles. Jos Ritzen, the administrator of the web site, reports that the image is from the company’s letterhead in 1912.

The Merkel Company was established in Milwaukee, Wisc. in 1902 by Joseph Merkel, a bicycle maker. His company was purchased by the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Co. in 1911. An interesting history of the motorcycle is here,  including the stories of Margaret Gast, early motorcycle racer and stunt driver, and Maldwyn Jones, a national champion racer who helped establish the Flying Merkel as a premiere speed machine. The Flying Merkel was apparently known for its bright orange color.

The 1911 Flying Merkel. The Minneapolis park board purchased four. (Photo

How did the park board use the Flying Merkels? We know the first recreation director, Clifford Booth, had used a motorcycle in previous years to speed from one playground to another, so he may have gotten one. Also in April 1910 the park board approved the purchase of a motorcycle or a horse — with a “recommendation” for the horse — for the park board’s forester. Perhaps the forester got the horse in 1910 and it was upgraded in 1911.  But this photo from the 1912 annual report of the park board shows how at least two of the Flying Merkels were used.

Minneapolis park police in the 1912 annual report of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. At least two “Flying Merkels” were used by the police. An independent park police force has often been cited as one reason for the great success of the Minneapolis park system. (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board)

Park police chief Burton Kingsley, seated at the center of the photo, who later was elected as a park commissioner, asked to have the motorcycles replaced by horses. He argued that horses could be used in any weather, but motorcycles were useless in Minnesota for much of the year. He also claimed that police officers got more respect on horses. Perhaps orange wasn’t the best color for police work. But no horse could have had a cooler name.

Despite Kingsley’s preference for horses he reported that the police force logged 50,000 miles on their Flying Merkels in 1912.  That’s a lot of oats.

David C. Smith

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