Sunday, November 07, 2010

Did You Know #32

Although his name may be unfamiliar today, in the world of automotive racing one of the first hero's of the sport was Caleb S. Bragg.

Born into a wealthy Cincinnati, OH family in 1888, Caleb Smith Bragg, the son of Cais C. Bragg and Eugenia Hofer Bragg [1], was just as comfortable in tailored suits as in a mechanic's suit. Perhaps he even felt most relaxed behind the wheel of a speeding racecar. His first official race took place in April 1910, as this Yale graduate took on the most famous driver of his day, Barney Oldfield, at the "Playa Del Ray, a perfectly round, steeply [2] banked 1-mile bowl near the beach in Los Angeles" [3]. This unknown underdog racer beat Oldfield twice in a row.

Caleb also raced in the very first Indianapolis 500, 1911, unfortunately, while his car was parked in the pit area another driver collided into him, ending his part in that historic event. But, Bragg was back in the mix as Savannah, finishing fourth. In 1912 he finished second in the Santa Monica road race, losing "to "terrible Teddy" Tetzlaff," and the next day he "won a 5-mile match race at Playa Del Ray, setting U.S. closed circuit records for 2, 3, 4, and 5 miles" [4].

When it came time to race again in Indianapolis, Caleb worked alongside "Terrible Teddy," relieving him after 220 miles. When Bragg pulled out of the pits in third place, but quickly took second but had to return to the pits with tire problems. That was all the rest Teddy needed, as he replaced Caleb and finished the race in second place.

The dangers of his chosen line of work were impressed upon him a few months later, when Caleb won the race but lost one of his closest friends, David Bruce-Brown, who was killed during the event. At the 1913 Indianapolis 500 Caleb was the fastest qualifier, but had to exit the race after only 120 laps with mechanical problems, repeating with a similar performance the following year.

Caleb Bragg served as the first president of the Yale Automobile Club, his alma mater. He sat behind the wheel at the starting line for a final time at the 1915 Vanderbilt Cup in San Francisco, turning his attention towards another hobby, the quickly emerging aviation industry [5]. On May 15, 1942, The Wings Club came into existence under the leadership if its first president, Caleb. S. Bragg. Meeting in New York City, the club was dedicated to discuss how to promote aviation [6].

A third area of interest for Caleb was speedboat racing, an area in which "he made his mark" [7]. While indulging in the lifestyle of "a wealthy "playboy" of the 1920s," Bragg "commissioned several top-ranking speedboats during" those years, competing in the Gold Cup races near Detroit, racing boats such as "Baby Bootlegger" to consistent first and second place finishes.

When Caleb Bragg passed away, at the age of 56, his obituary appeared in the New York Times noting him as a "Flier, Auto Racer - Pioneer in Automotive Field - Also Noted as an Inventor - And Speedboat Pilot" [8]. In addition, his obituary revealed the work he did as an "Army test pilot during the First World War." He is described as a "quiet, fearless man, he always was in search of new adventures and new mechanical or scientific problems."

Among his accomplishments are:

  • In May, 1912, he set a world automobile record for five miles, covering the distance in 3 minutes 11 3/4 seconds.
  • At the outbreak of he first World War he was in Paris in 1914 as an attaché' at the United States Embassy.
  • He was co-organizer of the Wright-Martin Company in 1916, and vice president of the Glenn L. Martin Company.
  • He set American altitude records twice within a few days, first by exceeding 20,000 feet, then by reaching 21,000 feet in 1917.
  • He trained a Yale aviation unit in Florida during WWII.
  • He served as an Army captain and test pilot at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.
  • In 1918 he flew from Dayton to Washington, D.C., in two hours and fifty minutes, then a speed record.
  • In 1919 he established an altitude for seaplanes by flying to a height of 20,000 feet.
  • He and Mr. Kliesrath invented the booster vacuum brake bearing their names and formed the Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation in Long Island City, Queens, and he served as the company’s president.
  • He served as a director of this organization and later was vice president of the Bendix Marine Products Company (which absorbed the Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation).
  • President of the Langley Aviation Corporation.
  • He was vice president and engineer of the C.M. Keys Aircraft Service, Inc.
  • Since 1925 he had applied for more than 150 patents.
  • In 1924-27 he was one of the world's most successful motorboat racers, winning the coveted Gold Cup three times [9].

Our Bragg family is related to Caleb Bragg through the marriage of Orpha Munson (our 3rd cousins 5 times removed) with James Bragg (3rd cousins 3 times removed). Here is the connection:

Samuel Munson & Martha (Mary) Farnes
Solomon Munson b.1688Waitstill Munson b.1697
Samuel Munson b.1717Samuel Munson b.1724
Samuel Munson Jr. b.1763Waitstill Munson b.1760
Isaac Munson b.1802Orpha Munson b.1793
Joel Munson b.1846
James L. Bragg b.1833
Elvira Belle Munson b.1871
Gladys Gilbreath b.1898
Gladys Gilbreath b.1898

Don Cicero Bragg b.1920


This makes James L. Bragg (b.1833) our 4th cousins 4 times removed and Caleb S. Bragg's 4th cousins 3 times removed:

Nicholas Bragge & Sara Langbrady
Henry Bragg b.1657John Bragg b.1659
Alexander Bragg b.1680Thomas Bragg b.1685
Nicholas Bragg b.1732 John Bragg b.1717
James Bragg b.1784John Bragg b.1749
James L. Bragg b.1833John Bragg b.1780

Caleb S Bragg b.1824

Caius Cobb Bragg b.1857

Caleb Smith Bragg b.1888

Notes:

[1] Caleb Bragg Dies, New York Times, Tues., Oct. 26, 1943, pg. 23:1; Transcribed by Bob Holcombe, 6/13/01.
[2] Caleb Bragg Dies, Bragg also "took a post-graduate engineering course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1909."
[3] Tim Considine, American Grand Prix Racing: A Century of Drivers & Cars, Osceola, WI, Motorbooks International, 1997; Bragg even "put up the prize money, $2,000 cash to the winner of two out of three two-lap sprints."
[4] Tim Considine.
[5] Tim Considine.
[6] A Brief History of the Wings Club http://www.wingsclub.org/index.htm
[7] Michael Carmichael, BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES, via email to The Wings Club.
[8] Caleb Bragg Dies, New York Times, Tues., Oct. 26, 1943, pg. 23:1; Transcribed by Bob Holcombe, 6/13/01. The paper reported that he died in that city "on Sunday in Memorial Hospital after a long illness at the age of 56."
[9] THE NATIONAL CIVIL WAR NAVAL MUSEUM, Columbus, GA; submitted to the Wings Club site by Robert Holcombe, Curator/Historian; historian@portcolumbus.org.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Very nice. I owned Caleb Bragg's raceboat BABY BOOTLEGGER for 25 years and got to know Bragg's surviving heirs. I was given a few of Bragg's personal belongings. Caleb was a brilliant and amazing man. Mark Mason