Frank Kramer’s success was a direct result of his personal sacrifice and discipline. From the time he turned professional in 1900 until his last race in 1922 at age 41, Kramer led a monkish lifestyle, abstaining from smoking, drinking, late nights and even evaded marriage until two years after his retirement. He commanded enormous appearance fees and Kramer’s presence filled velodrome stadiums throughout the world, and especially in the United States. He pocketed more than $20,000 per year in appearance fees, winnings and endorsements. By retirement, he amassed a fortune of more than $350,000. The irony of his incredible career, like many great American cyclists of his day, is that Kramer is virtually unknown today.
His father, Louis Kramer, was a Harvard graduate and was winner of six world championship gold medals in disciplines such as gymnastics, wrestling, fencing and the broadsword. Louis was not a man to be trifled with, and young Frank learned well from his father. Frank’s parents feared a tuberculosis outbreak, so in 1887 the family moved to Newark, New Jersey where it was believed the salt air and exercise would prevent the disease.
“The first year I entered I didn’t win a race. I was only fifteen then” said Kramer, “but I soon got the hang, and in 1898 and 1899 I won the national championships. Then I turned professional.”
Although Kramer dabbled in six-day racing and motor-pacing, he was primarily a sprinter. He had an amazing top-end speed in the final dash, with many victories measured by inches. He was powerfully built at 5’ 11” and 180 pounds and had a large protruding chin. “Big Steve” was his nickname and in 1900, he took second to Major Taylor in the U.S. national professional sprint title. The next year Kramer won the first of his sixteen straight titles. For good measure, he won again in 1918 and a final title in 1921.
In 1912 Kramer won the only world professional sprint title he ever competed in—in his hometown of Newark. Kramer went to Europe in 1905 and 1906 and won the Grand Prix de Paris both times.
Kramer announced that July 26, 1922 would be his final competition, and he chose the Newark velodrome. For one last time, Frank Kramer wheeled out his specially built nickel-plated Pierce racing bike. Over 20,000 fans packed the stands and the infield. Hundreds were turned away at the gate. According to Jack Simes II, who was only eight at the time, men in shirt sleeves and straw hats were everywhere. Jack’s father had purchased six box-seat tickets well in advance. “I could’ve reached out and touched him,” Simes said of Kramer, “he was so close to the rail. He wore a white silk jersey with an American flag sewn over his heart”
Kramer was to ride one-sixth of a mile—one lap—around the track in an attempt to break the world record. “Well, like one person that whole stadium rose to its feet,” recalled Simes, “and when Kramer rode around the top of the track slowly, building up speed, the cheers followed him like a tidal wave. I had goose bumps on my arms.” On that warm night he didn’t break it, but tied the world record at 15.4 seconds.
Retirement did not keep him from the racetrack. Kramer became a chief referee at many indoor and outdoor races and also served as chairman of the Board of Control of the National Cycling Association. Kramer married Helen Hays in 1924 and became an active figure in the Boy Scout movement.
Kramer’s grand-nephew, Gordon Wright, donated many items shown at the Hall of Fame.
(courtesy - Andrew Homan)