Harriet Frishmuth was born in Philadelphia and raised in Europe. While living abroad she attended school in Paris, summered in Switzerland and spent two years in Dresden. It was in Switzerland that she met an American woman sculptor who encouraged her interest in modelling. At the age of nineteen she enrolled in a modelling class in Paris and received criticism from Rodin, who on several occasions singled her work out for praise. Frishmuth next attended the Academie Colarossi, where her teachers were Henri Desire Gauquie and Jean Antoine Injalbert. She then worked for two years as an assistant to Cuno von Euchtritz in Berlin.
Returning to the United States in 1904, Frishmuth attended the Art Students League in New York where her teachers were Hermon MacNeil and Gutzon Borglum. She set up her first studio in 1910 and soon received portrait commissions and attained success selling sculpted ashtrays, bookends, letter openers and paper weights. In 1913 she purchased a studio in the city at Sniffen Court, near East 35th and East 36th streets. Her large figurative works began to be exhibited in important showings and became immensely popular.
"Speed" was modeled in 1922. The work served as the basis for editions cast in silver plated bronze (numbering 15), gold plated bronze (2), and bronze (51). It was conceived as a ornamental radiator cap for an automobile, and available in two sizes -- 1 inch high by 8 inches long and six inches high by 12 inches long. The streamlined, Art Deco design was meant to convey the idea of forward motion. The model for the work was Blanche Ostrehan, who also served as a model for the photographer Alvin Langdorn Coburn. In around 1925, Frishmuth created a life size marble relief of the work for the niche above the entrance way of the Telephone Building in Erie, Pennsylvania (Location Unknown).