Motorcycle History: Erwin Cannon Ball Baker

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Erwin Cannon Ball Baker

Baker of course accepted the challenge and, with a newspaper reporter as his co-driver, he managed to get from San Diego to New York City in 11 days, seven hours and 15 minutes.

Baker was always looking for ways of improving and he never let the records stand for long. The following year he did the entire trip again and improved his time to seven days, 11 hours and 53 minutes.

Erwin Cannon Ball Baker
Erwin Cannon Ball Baker

After the First World War, Baker decided to tour the U.S. on an Indian, visiting each of the then 48 state capitals. He did this in 78 days, 18 hours and 33 minutes covering more than 16,234 miles. Allegedly he only slept four hours a day while undertaking this endeavor and to mark this achievement, Baker immediately set out on a trip from Tijuana, Mexico, to the Canadian border, which he did again on an Indian, in two days and five hours.

Thereafter, Baker concentrated even more on cars and endurance records. He raced once at the Indy 500 in 1922 finishing 11th and continued to traverse the U.S. breaking distance records in automobiles.

In 1930, Herbert Hoover, the then U.S. President, reputedly remarked that because of his feats more people knew the name of Cannon Ball Erwin Baker than his own.

Erwin Cannon Ball Baker
Erwin Cannon Ball Baker

By 1933, times were changing. There were more paved roads than ever before and state police departments now patrolled them fining speeding motorists. However, in one last dash from coast to coast in 1933, Baker set a new record of 53 hours, 30 minutes in a Stutz. The half an hour, Baker said, was for his one rest stop. Nobody has since officially broken Baker’s record in the 80 years since it was first set.

Baker retired from record breaking in 1934 and worked on inventing things including a single-cylinder rotary motorcycle engine. Neither brought him the fame or fortune that he had hoped. Due to his links with automobiles and motorcycles, Baker was appointed as the first ever commissioner of NASCAR in 1947. This would be a position he held until he died at the age of 78 in May 1960.

As the saying goes, they don’t make them like that any more. Cannon Ball Erwin Baker was definitely a one off.

  • William Connor

    Just awesome. Too bad that kind of behavior would be arrested, tried, and jailed in today’s world. Makes you want to ride cross country however.

  • Dan

    Single cylinder rotary engine? Diagram please.

    • Jimmy Cloak

      Rotary-valve engine. Here’s a diagram: http://www.motohistory.net/news2008/news-jan08.html (scroll down to the January 29, 2008 post).

      • Dan

        Thanks for the clarification. “Rotary valve” makes a lot more sense than the pistonless (rotary) design I was thinking of. Neat link and article too.

    • Tim Watson

      I believe the single cylinder rotary was never put into production – Baker thought he could make a lot of money from it. It was something he tinkered with.

  • Jack Meoph

    What a guy. Impressive in any era.

    • Jack Meoph

      That “check out my a$$” picture is pretty awesome by the way.

  • Davidabl2

    It should be noted that the annual “Cannonball Run” a transcontinental antique motorcycle run is named after Mr. Baker. The Cannonball is being run for the third time I believe this summer.

  • Scott Vogt

    You know who else drives a stutz bearcat? One C. Montgomery Burns. A 1929? if memory serves

  • Pablo Perez

    Great article, thanks Tim. It’d be great if we could have more of this kind of content.