Frederick N. Bonine (October 21, 1863 – August 22, 1941) was an American sprinter and eye doctor. He held the world’s record in the 110-yard dash for 35 years from 1886 until 1921. He later became an internationally known eye doctor who saw over one million patients at his office in Niles, Michigan.
Bonine was born in Niles, Michigan in 1863, the son of a physician. Bonine attended the Niles public schools before studying at Freiburg, Germany. He then enrolled at the University of Michigan where he was a member of the football and track teams. At one time he held 10 campus track and field records. Bonine (near lane in the photo below) won the 100-yard dash at the Intercollegiate Association Championships at the Manhattan Athletic Club grounds in 1885, beating runners from Harvard and Columbia in the final and giving him claim to being U-M’s first national champion. In 1886, Bonine set a world’s record with a time of 10.8 seconds in the 110-yard dash. The record stood for 35 years until it was broken in 1921 by Charley Paddock.
After completing his medical degree at the University of Michigan and studying further in Europe, Bonine returned to his hometown of Niles, Michigan, and set up an eye clinic above the corner drugstore. Each year, tens of thousands of patients from around the world reportedly sought treatment at Bonine’s office. Bonine regularly treated as many as 517 patients in one day and regularly saw 200 patients in a day. Hundreds lined up each day, none with appointments, to see him, with each being charged the same fee of two dollars for a first visit and one dollar for subsequent visits. Special buses from Chicago to Niles ran twice a week to bring patients to see Bonine. Several restaurants, gift shops, and hotels in Niles reportedly “owed their existence to the patronage drawn to this small city by his fame.” One newspaper wrote:
“So numerous were the patients who filled his office each day, that brutally long hours were required to care for them. He never spared himself, frequently remaining until 10 o’clock or even midnight to finish. An indefatigable worker, he had the assistance of only a small office force. It was said of him that he rivalled Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas A. Edison for going without sleep. . . . A time-worn, old-fashioned suite of office in Niles was a crossroads for that vast army of unfortunates with afflicted eyesight who came from the four corners of the earth seeking the professional assistance of Dr. Fred N. Bonine.”
He was reported to have seen 1,500,000 patients in nearly 50 years of practice.
In 1912, he served as a medical advisor to the United States team at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Bonine was also a member of the Michigan State Athletic Board of Control and the Michigan Boxing Commission. He became a close friend of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey after reportedly saving Dempsey’s eyesight at the height of the boxer’s career.
He also found time to do his civic duty in Niles, serving as mayor for nine years.
“11,000 Pay Tribute at Dr. Bonine Rites; Stores and Factories Closed in Honor of Niles, Michigan Specialist“, New York Times, August 26, 1941.