5/4/1878 - 26/10/1927
Now we at Friday Chaps, had always assumed that the Champion brand was just a simple, but effective use of the superlative. We’d never imagined it to be the name of some gent, bloke or Chap. But there we were wrong! Albert Champion was a record setting bicyclist and motorcyclist, racing driver, early automobile innovator, charismatic ladies' man and all round celebrity. Albert Champion died 95 years ago, he was 49
Albert Champion, pronounced originally a la francais, with a sham’ not a cham’, wasn’t just a Champion by name though, he was also a champion in the true sense mainly in the bicycle discipline.
Recognized principally for his velodrome work. Albert hit the headlines in 1899, when he won, nay dominated; the fourth running of the Paris-Roubaix classic. A notoriously gruelling event that’s still takes place today. Though it now starts from Compiegne, to the north of the French capital.
And on the strength of this success, Albert was invited to take part in a fruitful tour of the United States. Which quickly inspired a desire to return there on a permanent basis. Not least because it would get him out of his obligatory military service! The arrangements were made. And for financial sustenance, he went into business with a bunch of Boston based brothers; Robert, Spencer and Frank Stranahan.
Albert had recently taken to racing cars and motorcycles and hatched a plan to import French made components for the like and it was a great success. But by far their most lucrative product was a spark plug conceived by Edouard Nieuport. Who’d later balloon to even greater fame, as the designer and maker of fighter planes used in WW1.
For a few years then, all was sweetness and light ‘til a cloud appeared in the form of William C. Durant. The visionary founder of the General Motors Corporation. Who saw a network of self-supplying and sustaining manufactories as his passage to a fortune, and he wanted his own spark plug company, and in particular the Champion spark plug company. But while Albert was willing to sell, the Stranahans weren’t.
So Albert in union with Prospect, his curiously named brother, made off without them. The Champion brothers assuming they could just walk off with the parts and the Champion brand. The Stranahans though, begged to differ and the repercussions dragged on for years. Eventually it was agreed that Albert could use the design of the plugs. But not the Champion name. So, he settled instead on his initials; AC.
Champion married his Paris childhood sweetheart in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after he had been in America for a few years. However Champion had always fancied his chances with the ladies and had numerous affairs during his marriage of almost 20 years. One of these was Louis Chevrolet's wife. Champion had backed Louis financially until this news came out, which led to a fight and the end of their friendship. Eventually his behaviour so miffed his officially catalogued wife, that she struck off alone and sued him for 'extreme cruelty'.
Then in 1922 he married Edna Crawford, a younger woman from Kansas City, and, by all accounts, the marriage was soon proven to be a rocky one at best. Things came to a head in 1927 when Albert had his first and only encounter with his wife's new paramour, Charles Brazelle, at a bar in the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. And in passing an unfortunate comment to the same, earned himself a savage hit on the nose. The stars that he saw as a consequence were genuinely celestial as, despite being just 49 years old, he collapsed and died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism in his suite in the Hotel Meurice a short time later.
Edna became the beneficiary of Albert’s $15 million (about $236,000,000 today!) fortune and moved to New York with Brazelle, where they purchsed the building at 57 West 57th Street, moving into the top three floors. Sadley for Edna and, not long after, for Brazelle as well, things did not go well. Brazelle turned out to be a bit of a control freak who had bouts of extreme jealousy and would lock Edna away in her room. During one of their frequently arguments Brazelle beat Edna to death with a telephone. Her bodyguards promptly escorted Charles to the 19th floor where they threw him to his death, presumably to continue his conversation with Edna under somewhat different circumstances.
Albert Champion is long forgotten. But not so his creations.