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August 2015

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

U.S. Census Bureau History: Sturgis, SD, and the Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Samuel D. Sturgis
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Sturgis, SD was renamed to honor General Samuel D.
Sturgis— Fort Meade's first commander—and his son
James Garland Sturgis, who died June 25, 1876, at the
Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The city of Sturgis, SD, was founded in 1878 by merchants establishing businesses just beyond the gates of Fort Meade—a military outpost established to protect Black Hills mining settlements, particularly the area around Deadwood, SD. Originally named "Scooptown" (a reference to the ease with which businesses "scooped" money from soldiers eager to spend their pay), the settlement was renamed to honor Fort Meade's first commander, General Samuel D. Sturgis and his son James Garland Sturgis, who died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, alongside Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, June 25, 1876. Sturgis became the county seat of Meade County in 1889. More recently, the city has become internationally famous for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Link to a non-federal Web site, which celebrated its 75th anniversary, August 3–9, 2015.

The annual rally in Sturgis got its start in 1938 when local Indian Motorcycle dealership owner Clarence "Pappy" Hoel and eight other motorcyclists raced one another in front of a small group of spectators on August 14. Except for a brief hiatus during World War II, it attracted a growing number of motorcycle enthusiasts as the rally added races, hill climbs, and concerts. Today, the South Dakota Department of Transportation estimates that 500,000 or more people attend the seven-day event in Sturgis, making it one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world.

Census data and other statistical sources can help you learn more about South Dakota and the nation's love affair with motorcycles. For example:

  • During the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the city's population dwarfs South Dakota's capital, Pierre (population 13,984), and the state's largest city, Sioux Falls (population 164,676).
  • In 1938, when Clarence "Pappy" Hoel held the first small rally in Sturgis, SD, there were 117,421 registered motorcycles in the United States. By 2009, the number had grown to 7,883,000. South Dakota had 62,000 registered motorcycles—approximately one bike for every 14 people in 2020.
  • For many residents of Sturgis, SD, motorcycling is more than a one-week affair. In 2013, the American Community Survey found that of the city's 3,054 workers aged 16 and older, 4.1 percent reported commuting to work by "taxicab, motorcycle, or other means." In comparison, 1.1 percent of South Dakota workers and 1.2 percent of workers nationally reported similar means of transporation.
  • According to 2009 registration data, California led the nation in the number of registered motorcycles with 759,000, followed by Florida (663,000), Texas (435,000), Pennsylvania (409,000), and Ohio (386,000).
  • Manufacturing motorcycles is an important component of many states' economies. For example, iconic manufacturer Harley-Davidson, founded in 1903 by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, employs more than 6,400 at its facilities in Milwaukee, WI; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; Valley View, OH; and York, PA.
  • In 2019 Census Bureau reported that the nation's motorcycle, bicycle, and parts manufacturers (NAICS 336991) had sales of more than $6.2 billion. Many of their products were sold by the 1,366 motorcyle, ATV, and all other motor vehicle dealers (NAICS 441228) in the U.S.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Sturgis, SD, hosts the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Link to a non-federal Web site August 3–9, 2015. During that week, 500,000 people will attend,
making the city more populous than South Dakota's largest city—Sioux Falls!

Photo courtesy of Minot Air Force Base.

This Month in Census History

American suffragette Lillie Devereux Blake was born August 12, 1833, in Raleigh, NC. Blake joined the suffrage movement in 1869, and was a champion of equal rights, along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In the 1870s, Blake successfully lobbied Superintendent of the Census Francis Amasa Walker to hire women for the clerical positions previously filled exclusively by men. Of the 1,705 employees employed by the Census Bureau during the 1880 Census, 771 (45.2 percent) were women.

Soldier kissing nurse on VJ Day
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On This Day in History

On August 14, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Japan. Although the formal signing of the terms of surrender would not take place until September 2, America and its allies celebrated the end of World War II with spontaneous street celebrations.

In what has since become an iconic image of "VJ Day" celebrations, Navy Lieutenant Victor Jorgensen photographed an American sailor—one of 16.1 million veterans of the war—kissing a nurse in New York City's Times Square. By war's end, 16.1 million Americans served in the U.S. Armed Forces with 406,000 killed and 671,000 wounded. In 1950, 14.1 million males, 18 years and older, reported that they were veterans of World War II. By 2013, the number of American World War II veterans had fallen to 1.3 million.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Glenn Curtiss
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Did You Know?

Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss won the Gordon Bennett Cup at the first organized international air meet in Reims, France, August 22–29, 1909. Curtiss flew his biplane at an average speed of 46.77 mph, completing the 12 mile course in 15 minutes, 50.6 seconds.

Curtiss was famous for breaking records on land as well. He set a motorcycle speed record of 64 mph during a Yonkers, NY, hill climb on May 30, 1903. He broke his own record on January 24, 1907, riding a Curtiss V8 motorcycle 136.27 mph in Ormond Beach, FL. Curtiss's 1907 record was not beaten until 1930.

The current motorcyle speed record of 376.363 mph was set by Rocky Robinson Link to a non-federal Web site at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Tooele County, UT, salt flats on September 25, 2010.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022