William Buckingham Curtis is a founding father of the NYAC and a 1981 Hall of Fame inductee.
Curtis was born in Vermont on January 17th, 1837. He later moved to Chicago, where he met John C. Babcock; the two became rowing partners and close friends.
Curtis was renowned throughout the US for his weightlifting and sprinting abilities. Specifically, he was once recognized as the fastest American in the 100 yards sprint. But his athletic abilities were not limited to these pursuits; in addition to being a skilled ice skater and rower, Curtis was also an avid outdoorsman.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Curtis joined the Illinois Volunteers. Curtis served for the entirety of the war, and ultimately reached the rank of Captain.
After the war, Curtis was introduced to Henry Buermeyer. Both men were recognized for their remarkable strength and avid exercise routines, and they quickly became friends. They rented a flat located at 200 Sixth Avenue and 14th Street in New York, which they converted into a gymnasium. It was here that they tested their weightlifting, boxing and overall athletic abilities against one another.
In 1866, Curtis invited John Babcock to New York in hopes that the three men could form an athletic club. At the time, the nascent world of amateur sports sorely lacked organization. As such, competitions were often subjected to cheating and corruption. Curtis detested the rampant fraud and saw an athletic club as a way to organize, improve and purify competition. Unfortunately, their idea did not gain much enthusiasm at first. They held meetings in their gymnasium and twice took out newspaper advertisements, but still, no one came. It seemed as if no one was interested.
In a last ditch effort, the trio decided to take out a third advertisement, calling for anyone interested in forming an athletic club to attend a meeting at the Knickerbocker Cottage. It paid off. On September 8th, 1868, Curtis, Buermeyer, and Babcock, along with 14 other men, formally organized the NYAC. Almost 150 years and over 9,000 members later, the Club stands as a testament to Curtis' vision.
In addition to the NYAC, Curtis was integral to the formation of other athletic organizations. In 1878, Curtis became the editor of the Spirit of the Times: a weekly newspaper published in New York City that covered amateur athletics. Two years later, Curtis also founded the Fresh Air Club, which advocated exploration of the rural areas surrounding the city. For his many contributions, he has been referred to as the "father of American amateur athletics."
Once, when speaking about a rower who had died during a race, Curtis remarked: "I do not see why he is to be pitied. How could he die happier than when engaged in the sport he loved best?” William Curtis died on June 30th, 1900; he was caught in a snowstorm while climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire. He was 63 years old.