Photo from American Grand Prix Racing
by Tim Considine
Courtesy of Bob Holcombe
by Clayton Knight
Caleb Bragg looked anything but a race car driver. The son of a wealthy publisher in Cincinnati, Bragg was slight if handsome, always attired in expensive tailored suits and fine leather gloves (which earned him the nickname "Chesterfield of the racing crowd"), and he was a Yale graduate. He just happened to have a passion for fast cars. He could afford the best, and he could drive with the best.
Bragg plunged into motor racing in April 1910 by choosing as his first opponent someone who was totally opposite in manner and appearance--and very famous. The occasion was the inagural races at the world's first board track, Playa Del Ray, a perfectly round, steeply banked 1-mile bowl near the beach in Los Angeles. When Ralph DePalma was unable to get his temperamental 200-horsepower Mephistopholes Fiat to the grid for a match race against perennial rival Barney Oldfield as advertised, it was 22-year-old Bragg who stepped forward with a challenge. He would take DePalma's place in his own hotted up Fiat 90 against Oldfield's Blitzen Benz. What's more, he'd put up the prize money, $2,000 cash to the winner of two out of three two-lap sprints.
It was an offer the cigar-chomping showman couldn't refuse. Maybe this unknown amateur had beaten a few locals over the past couple of days, but no way could he measure up against a seasoned and crafty professional in the famous Blitzen Benz--or so thought Oldfield. Wrong. Beat him twice in a row. Young Caleb Bragg had arrived.
Bragg's debut at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 the next year was less successful. His Fiat was parked in the pits when another car plowed into it. End of story. But at Savannah, "Caley," as he was called, showed real skill, finishing foutth in his first big-time road race. Then in 1912, at the Santa Monica road race, Bragg finished second to "terrible Teddy" Tetzlaff. The very next day, Bragg won a 5-mile match race at Playa Del Ray, setting U.S. closed circuit records for 2, 3, 4, and 5 miles. Among those who were impressed was Tetzlaff, who asked the young charger to relieve him in the 500 later in the month. Bragg's second drive at the Speedway was spectacular if short. At 220 miles, Tetzlaff pulled into the pits and signaled for relief. Bragg pulled out of the pits in third place, quickly gained a lap back on the leader and advanced to second before having to return to the pits to replace his abused tires. Tetzlaff jumped back in and finished second.
Seven months after his bittersweet victory in the Grand Prize at Milwaukee--where close friend David Bruce-Brown was killed--Bragg was the fastest qualifier for the 1913 Indianapolis 500, driving an American-made Mercer. In the race itself, he was not a threat, finally going out on lap 129 with a broken pump shaft. The next year at Indy, Bragg qualified the Mercer sixth-fastest and twice led the race for short periods, but then fell back and eventually went out with a broken crank, the same problem that would force his "Californian" Mercer out of the 1915 Grand Prize.
American Grand Prix Racing:
A Century of Drivers & Cars.
by Tim Considine
Osceola, WI, Motorbooks International, 1997
Coutesy of Bob Holcombe
by Harold Osmer & Phil Harms
Caleb Bragg led a few laps of the 1912 Santa Monica free-for-all event and eventually finished second. Bragg was the first president of the Yale Automobile Club, where he graduated in 1908. His last race was the 1915 Vanderbilt Cup race at San Francisco and his name has since been lost to racing history. It is generally believed that he transferred his passion for auto racing into the parallel growth of aviation.
Specifically, The Wings Club was founded to:
Maintain a non-profit aviation meeting place in New York City to promote
the advancement and development of aeronautics.
Provide a center for discussion of matters pertaining to aviation.
Provide members services and facilities to aid them in their aeronautical
Led by The Wings Clubs first president, Caleb S. Bragg, prominent civil and military aviation leadersincluding Eddie Rickenbacker and Juan Trippewere named to the first board of directors.
To establish the clubs leadership in civil and military aviation a number of honorary members were elected, including:
General Hap Arnold, the commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces;
L. Welch Pogue, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board;
Dr. Jerome Hunsaker, chairman of the National Advisory Committee for
Fiorello LaGuardia, the aviation-minded mayor of New York.
These introductory paragraphs were taken by permission
from the History page of the Wings Club website.
For the complete story I invite you to click on:
A Brief History of the Wings Club
For more information on the Wings Club, click on:
The Wings Club
via email from Michael Carmichael, 3-29-05
He was a wealthy "playboy" of the 1920s. He commissioned several top-ranking speedboats during the 1920s to participate in the famous Gold Cup races held near Detroit. In the mid-'20s, Bragg vied with Gar Wood for top positions in the annual races. Bragg's most well known speedboat was "Baby Bootlegger" which won the Gold Cup twice, 1925 and 1926, I believe.
There is a bit of information about him on the web. You might wish to check out Guetat's, Classic Speed Boats, or White's, Wood, Water & Light.
64 Kingston Road
Oxford OX2 6RJ
Caleb was president of the Langley Aircraft Corp., 1942
You will find a description of the Langley Twin,
and two photos by clicking on:
and using the "Find" function on "Langley"
Highly Recommended Books for Further Reading
The History Of The Wings Club
1942-1967 The First Twenty Five Years
by Clayton Knight, O.B.E.
Published by: M. W. Lads
The History Of The Wings Club
1967-1992 The Second Twenty Five Years
by Willis Player
Published by: M. W. Lads
REQUEST FOR MORE INFORMATION
June 13, 2001
While researching Caleb S. Bragg I ran across your web-site. Am hoping you might be able to give me some direction. I am seeking biographical information on Bragg, such as might appear in an obituary. Do you know where I might find information of this type?
Thanks for any assistance you might be able to give.
Port Columbus Civil War Naval Center
June 13, 2001
Dear Bob: The only information I have on Caleb is what you see on his page on my Early Bird site. I don't have any other bright ideas as to sources, although you might want to contact the Wings Club directly. I found them to be very cordial and helpful. One other idea. With your permission, I would put your email on the bottom of his page, with your request and email address, so that any other visitor to his page might be able to respond. This practice has been successful on several occasions. I will await your permission to proceed.
June 13, 2001
Thanks Ralph - I'd appreciate you doing that. My interest in Bragg has to do with his early career as a race car driver. I have a considerable amount of information on that phase of his life (up until about 1914-15), but all the histories of early auto racing in the U.S. say he disappears from the record after that - then, I find him on your website, in aviation. Most interesting.
Thanks for your help,
June 13, 2001
Hi Bob: Very interesting to be sure. He apparently died in 1943. I don't have copies of the Chirp, the official publication of the Early Birds for that period, but they usually have obituaries for the members who die during the year. Some of them are very extensive, so if you can find a copy, it might be very helpful. I suspect the Smithsonian many have a complete collection, but I haven't found any source for the copies I lack. Perhaps you can pursue that possibility.
I will add the emails to his page ASAP, perhaps today. Hope it helps..
Editor's Note: Bob's email address is: email@example.com He would welcome any help you can offer.
Tues., Oct. 26, 1943, pg. 23:1
Transcribed by Bob Holcombe, 6/13/01
Flier, Auto Racer
Pioneer in Automotive Field
Also Noted as an Inventor
And Speedboat Pilot
Caleb S. Bragg, long a leading figure in the aviation, automobile and motorboat fields, died here on Sunday in Memorial Hospital after a long illness at the age of 56.
An engineer and the inventor or co-inventor of many automobile devices, including the widely used Bragg-Kliesrath brake perfected by him and the late Victor W. Kliesrath. Mr. Bragg won fame as a pioneer automobile racing driver, and Army test pilot during the first World War, a champion altitude flier, aviation manufacturing company officer, consulting engineer and amateur sportsman. He resided at 277 Park Avenue and at Montauk Point, L.I.
A quiet, fearless man, he always was in search of new adventures and new mechanical or scientific problems.
Born in Cincinnati, he was a son of Cais C. Bragg and Eugenia Hofer Bragg. As a Yale student Mr. Bragg became interested in automobile racing. He participated in many amateur events and had unusual success. He was graduated from Yale in 1908 and took a post-graduate engineering course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1909
Broadening his racing activities, Mr. Bragg defeated the famous Barney Oldfield on a California track, and won many trophies in this country and abroad. In May, 1912, he set a world automobile record for five miles, covering the distance in 3 minutes 11 3/4 seconds. He won the Fourth International Grand Prix automobile road race at Wauwatosa, Wis., for the Vanderbilt Cup in 1912 against twelve of the world's leading drivers.
Mr. Bragg was in Paris in 1914 as an attache' at the United States Embassy when the first World War started. He returned to America in 19115 and learned to fly and became financially interested in, and vice president of, the Glenn L. Martin Company. He purchased a Martin plane, equipped it with a special Hall-Scott more, and made his first solo flight in the spring of 1916 and became the holder of the Aero Club of America Certificate No. 70. He was co-organizer of the Wright-Martin Company in 1916.
By 1917 he was noted as an altitude flier. In the summer of 1917 he set American altitude records twice within a few days, first by exceeding 20,000 feet, then by reaching 21,000 feet.
When the United States entered the war against Germany, Mr. Bragg trained a Yale aviation unit in Florida. Then he became an Army captain and test pilot at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio. He later became director of flight activities at the field.
In 1918 he flew from Dayton to Washington, D.C., in two hours and fifty minutes, then a speed record. The next year he established an altitude for seaplanes by flying to a height of 20,000 feet.
In 1920-24 he was governor of the Aero Club of Amereica and a member of its contest commission for the Pulitzer, Curtiss-Marine and other trophy races. For a period after the first war, he was a director of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation. In the Nineteen twenties he and Mr. Kliesrath invented the booster vacuum brake bearing their names and formed the Bragg-Kliesrath Corporation in Long Island City, Queens, Mr. Bragg serving as president. The company was absorbed by the Bendix Aviation Corporation. Mr. Bragg served as a director of this organization and later was vice president of the Bendix Marine Products Company.
His next post was that of president of the Langley Aviation Corporation. This company was formed to build a molded plastic plywood plane for private use. His last postition was a vice president and engineer of the C.M. Keys Aircraft Service, Inc., here. He resigned last March because of poor health. He continued his automotive development experiments, however, and since 1925 had applied for more than 150 patents.
In 1924-27, Mr. Bragg was one of the world's most successful motorboat racers. He took a hand in the design of many of the engines and boats he used and won many races. Three times he brought home the coveted Gold Cup.
He leaves a sister, Mrs. Marion Aubert of Syosset, L.I. A funeral service will be held at 11 A.M. tomorrow in the chapel of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, Fifty-first Street and Park Avenue.
THE NATIONAL CIVIL WAR NAVAL MUSEUM