Origin of the checkered flag

I just signed on as a guest member and have always found “Straight Dope” to be highly entertaining. I have search the message board and have not found a reference to this question.

I would like to know the origin of the checkered flag that is waved at the end of each race ?

I read that it started as a flag in bicycle races during the late 19th century in Europe. I also saw a photo of the checkered flag in use in the United States in 1908-1912? I think it was Watkins Glen.

Who or what group of people designed this flag and decided to wave it to mark the end of a race? and when.

Thanks in advance.

Possible origins: