Everything Librarian: Who Was Inmate Floyd Clymer?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Who Was Inmate Floyd Clymer?

It's not often that I run to an inmate who has their own Wikipedia page. Such is the case with Floyd Clymer (1895-1970), inventor, businessman, automobile innovator, and professional racer. I found Clymer's Federal Leavenworth, Kansas, prison record while perusing historic prison records available at the US National Archives. And I have never seen a mugshot with such a happy face! Clymer was convicted of Mail Fraud, no doubt an early conviction of using the mail in a nefarious manner. I was unable to find out the real issue here-- what lead to the arrest-- until I found a small ad in the back of the American Motorcycle Association Magazine:

I have to assume that this small magazine ad is what sent Clymer to prison: perhaps he had nothing to send the patent seeker or perhaps he provided false information. Either way, this successful businessman, inventor, and professional driver ended up at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas for about a year.

Harley Davidson & Meryle Clymer

Another thing that drew me to the inmate file of Floyd Clymer was the length of his file. There are almost 200 pages of documents and for a prisoner serving only a year that is a lot of paperwork. I concluded that there had to be an interesting story here. Most of the documents in Clymer's file represent telegrams to and from his wife and business partner Meryle Clymer. At the time of his arrest and incarceration, Floyd Clymer owned and ran a successful Harley Davidson shop in Colorado. Even though Meryle lives in Colorado, she travels to Leavenworth, Kansas about twice a month to visit her husband and to consult him about the business. And you can tell Floyd is a proactive businessman when he writes to the Warden of Leavenworth to ask questions about his impending incarceration-- Floyd is a planner and a bit of a name dropper. I think this is also Floyd's way of showing the Warden that he is not your run-of-the-mill criminal-- Floyd is an important businessman with his own letterhead, secretary, and important friends.

Another unique aspect of Floyd Clymer's inmate record is the love and affection expressed in the exchange of telegrams between Floyd and Meryle. Floyd usually signs each telegram with a very sweet and sincere, 'Worlds of Love.' The below telegram from Meryle to Floyd from January 1, 1931, reads in part: "This new year will bring us many good things. Thinking of you all day and loving you with all my heart." Clearly this is a couple that was not destroyed by a prison sentence. The back and forth of telegrams shows a couple united in their business and personal partnership.

Letters of Support

Floyd has a lot of important friends who write letters to the Warden on his behalf. One letter reads in part: "You recently acquired a new addition to your big house in the person of Floyd Clymer. He does not belong in your institution, and would not be there, in my opinion, except for technicalities of law." That fact that the letter is signed by lawyer Kenaz Huffman of the Colorado law firm of Yeaman, Gove and Huffman makes this particularly funny and ironic-- all people have been sent to prison on 'technicalities of law.' Perhaps what Huffman meant to say is that while Clymer broke the law he had no previous record and was not criminally minded.

Other letters in Clymer's file indicate that at one point the Warden of Leavenworth is seeking a personal driver. Clymer is keen to get the job and has several very important people send letters to the Warden on his behalf. One letter from Don Hogan of Fokker Aircraft of Chicago reads:

"Floyd Clymer is the man and I doubt if there is anyone in the United States of his age that has attained more worthy note when it comes to professional racing and supervision of such events, than this fellow. For seventeen years he has raced motorcycles and automobiles and successfully and for many years past has been the one person to make the final choice of the best lady driver in the Rocky Mountain region in contests that are sponsored by the Rocky Mountain News of Denver."

Floyd Clymer is definitely part Paul Newman. Sadly, regulations prohibit inmates from being personal drivers so Clymer is denied the position.

Special Privileges Denied

While Floyd definitely has some things going for him that separate him from other inmates the Warden of Leavenworth at one point grew weary of Meryle Clymer often asking for special visiting privileges to be able to visit her husband and to consult him regarding the business. In February 1931 the Warden hand writes on a request letter from Meryle, "Advise her to handle by letter. No visit permitted." Even special guests in the Big House have their limitations.

Additionally, on August 28, 1930, N. R. Timmons of the Warden's office sends letter to Floyd saying,

"I am approving requests for three special letters received from you today with the understanding that they are not to be used in carrying on outside business from this institution, as it appears that you are trying to do. It is permissible for you to write such letters in closing up your business or to have the same carried on by others through power of attorney, but no requests of this kind will be granted in the future if it appears in any way that you are carrying on a business by this method."

It is common practice even today to deny inmates the right to "do business" from prison. In researching Clymer's records, he was certainly afforded privileges in this area that others might not have been permitted.

Upon his release on parole on June 15, 1931, Floyd Clymer goes on to continue his work in the field of motorcycles, automobiles, and racing. Clymer designs and patents motorcycle helmets. Floyd Clymer was honored as an inductee in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998. It's nice to know that Clymer survives his incarceration and picks up where he left off. As a former felon, Clymer seemed to face few obstacles in achieving success however, it should be noted that Clymer had the infrastructure of his success already built before his stay in prison. Many prisoners are not so lucky nor successful post release.


The Clymer Manuals are still in use today. Floyd Clymer also authored many books about automobiles including this one on the Porsche 912:

And finally, I have to include the only photo I could find of Meryle Clymer, faithful wife and partner of Floyd Clymer.

And just for the record, there is no proof in Leavenworth prison records that Clymer was granted leave to ride motorcycle in races. You can view Floyd Clymer's complete prison records at the National Archives here.

1 comment:

  1. I remember his name from several Clymer Repair Manuals I bought over the years, always wondered who he was. Thanks.