From 1876 to 1906 American engraver Frank Leslie published “Popular Monthly” magazine. In the November 1881 issue ran an article titled “Bicycle-Making Where and how bicycles are made”. This involved an extensive tour of the Hartford Connecticut factory’s of The Pope Mfg Co. and their offices in Boston Massachusetts. Presented here is that article including the accompanying illustrations.


    A walk of ten minutes from the railway station in Hartford, Conn., through a beautiful park, and by that most elegant of state capitals, which will keep the name of Upjohn famous as an architect for a century at least, brings one to the front entrance of one of the busiest and most interesting factories in America.  The small engraving herewith shows a view as it is seen from the opposite river bank.


    It had been known for many years as the Weed sewing Machine Company’s factory, and had acquired a reputation for excellent machine work and good mechanical skill. Sewing machines are still made there in a part of the works, and the wonderfully ingenious metallic screw machinery is busier than ever. But the buildings have been enlarged until they cover five acres of floorage, and the  numbers of mechanics and of machines have been trebled, and a threefold interest has been centered here within the last four years. Colonel Pope, of whom more on another page, held the wand which has worked this transformation. Under its sway this has become the largest bicycle factory in the world. In England this manufacture has a history of twelve years or more, and here it has but four; and yet this one large American factory is larger that any three across the Atlantic, and the Columbia bicycles, turned out at the rate of fifty a day already, are running in every pert of this country, and are exported to half-a-dozen other countries.

   The cuts which illustrate these pages, which are made from photographs taken on the premises, and the following cursory description, will give the thousands of readers of the POPULAR MONTHLY who cannot visit the works some idea of the extent, as well the methods, of this young manufacture. The building shown in a group in the first illustration are now all occupied by the bicycle works; the buildings occupied by the screw machinery and others above referred to, being on the other side of these. On entering from the street the visitor will find first, of course, the offices; then the designing and draughting and model rooms, where the best of skill and experience is focused, and the work mapped out, so to speak. From these, passing by a winding way and leaving other rooms until our return, we come to the forge shop. Arranged on either side are a dozen large drop forges with their accompanying contrivances, while in the corners are pony hammers and power hammers of different sizes. Just off from the main room is a cabinet for the dies, the various sets being kept in their appropriate places when not in use. Many of them are so large and heavy as to require the strength of two men to handle them. These dies are made in another part of the works, by expensive machinery and most skilled labor, some of them requiring weeks to cut and finish. In forging the “open  head”, for instance, there are five or six sets of dies used, one set of which costs more than five hundred dollars to cut and finish in the hard steel blocks. Some of the dies are the largest used in the country, and the drop forges in which they are used are believed to be amongst the largest in the world. Not all the forging, however, is done in the “forge shop”; there is another place where the rims are forged with rollers, and then they are welded and shaped with dies. There is the “perch shop”, where the tubular backbones are drawn, and have the proper proportions and curvature given to them.

   In another room the front forks are welded to the arms extending downward from the head, and the rear forks to the arms that take the back wheels. In the lathe room the cutting , milling, and turning of the cylindrical parts is done; in another the hubs are turned, and formed to receive the spokes and to be fixed on the axle; in still another the busy emery wheels make the fine metallic Finish. In the wheel room the wheels are set up and trued; in the tiring room the rubber tires, now made in molds, are stretched upon the rims. Cemented and baked; in the assembling room the wheels, forks, and backbones are put together, and every part duly marked and tagged.

   One of the most important is the inspection room, where all the parts of the different bicycles made are brought and tested with as much care as watch machinery or firearms are tested; every part and every workmen’s work is brought in this room for judgment, and all imperfect parts are rejected. Then there is the paint shop, where those parts not intended to be all-bright or nickel-plated, and some whole machines, are painted with their several coats and striped; and adjoining is the large drying room. In the nickeling room, especially fitted for the purpose, all the parts are separately coated with heavy plate, including the largest rims. In the storeroom for small parts is kept the surplus of all the lesser pieces which enter into the making of a bicycle.

   The number of different parts to a “Standard Columbia” is about seventy-seven, not including those parts of which several are used in the same bicycle, as, for instance, spokes, nuts, ect.; the parts of the “Special Columbia” number about sixty-six, not including the like bolts, nipples, ect.; while the actual number of pieces in either bicycle is over three hundred.  The “Mustang,” or youth’s bicycle, contains a few less. This does not include the accessories, such as wrenches, bell, lamps, bags, oil-cans, ect. This storeroom might be called a new curiosity shop.

   Again, there is the storeroom for bicycles, where completed machines are held at the factory to be drawn from by orders from the salesrooms at Boston and elsewhere, and from which, when orders are received, the bicycles are passed on to the crating, boxing, and marking rooms for delivery. Besides the many rooms mentioned, there are those in which the nuts and screws and bolts are made, and several others.  The making of the fine, anti-friction ball-bearings, invented and constructed expressly for the Columbia bicycles, is almost and industry by itself; the perfectly hard, smooth, equal spherical balls, and the accurately constructed box in which they are held, requiring considerable machinery and ingenious processes for their rapid and exact construction.


    Few who look at an elegant bicycle, as it sensitively obeys the will and responds to every motion of the rider, reflect how many things are involved in its building. To this factory are brought steel and iron in the bars of commerce, handles of the best horn (of which a thousand pairs will scarcely furnish fifty pairs accepted handles); the purest Para rubber; the anodes of nickel, and other requisites which may be had in the market, and which have already undergone many processes by men and machinery.  But they must be subjected in this factory to how many more? In the making of them, 158 different machines perform their labor, many of them complicated and peculiar to this art; whilst in the same machines many different tool are often used, and they are supplemented by the use of scores of hand and bench tools, and appliances known to well-equipped machine shops. Some of these machines and processes are patented, and most of the principal parts of the bicycle are the subjects of American and foreign patents.

   The way into this industry was beset with obstructions and difficulties on account of so many patents, and the enterprising founder was obliged to turn these same patents, as well as others since granted, into a hedge and protection for it during its adolescence.

   The supplement to this extensive manufacture may be briefly referred to. At Boston the warerooms and principal offices of the Pope Manufacturing Company (for this is the maker whose works have been described) occupy the principal part of a large and elegant stone-front building on Washington Street, in the centre of the city. The main offices are approached by broad flights of marble stairs in front, or by an elevator in the rear, and much resemble those of any large and busy corporation. But adjoining and above them are a large and well-lighted show-room, with its rows of bicycles and tricycles, a wareroom, a riding-floor of sufficient size for trying bicycles and tricycles and for taking the first lessons in their use, a well-appointed repair and fitting-shop, a painting-room, a store of accessories and outfits, and room for storing and crating. There is a “law department” connected, where the attorney for the corporation may be found when not elsewhere engaged; and last, but not least, is the cheery “president’s room,” which, however, does not long at a time detain the active “Colonel,” who flits about like the spinning wheels themselves on favorite roads. At these headquarters the greater part of the mercantile business of the company is performed, and here the retail orders for machines are received and filled, the larger orders being sent to the factory for direct shipment. The company has also its agencies more than two hundred cities and towns of this country, which are, many of them at least, sub-centers of activity and enterprise.

   The originator of this new industry and the president of the Pope Manufacturing Company, Colonel Albert A. Pope, is a comparatively young man, of fine personal presence and of genial manners. He had added to a long and honorable record in the army and equally successful one as a merchant whose means, business integrity and resources were of his own developing and accumulation. He was one of the first  few to ride the bicycle in this country, and is himself and active and enthusiastic wheelmen, was the first President of the Massachusetts Bicycle Club, is honorary member of several others, and has been foremost  in every way to promote the interests and enjoyments of American Wheelmen. When there was no one else ready to stake five thousand dollars on the success of the wheel in America, he came forward with many times that amount personally, and by his confidence inspired others.

   The velocipede was the subject of a furor in this country in 1869, and many makers in its construction; but they failed to make it a success as a practical road-vehicle. It met with sudden failure. American inventors did much to suggest improvements, some of which, like those in the suspension-wheel, tubular metallic construction, and the application of the rubber tire, were availed of abroad, where the use of the velocipede was continues and its perfection received great attention. Here and there in this country there had been a rider who had brought home a better bicycle from abroad; and at the Centennial Exhibition there were several styles shown. But there was no revival of velocipedestrianism, and there was no demand here for bicycles. In the Summer of 1877 Colonel Pope learned the art of an English visitor at his house in Newton, Mass., and immediately arranged for his company to import them. His foresight and sagacity led him to see in the near future and opportunity to create a wide market for these vehicles and to build ;up and American manufacture of them. He visited England, and learned at Coventry and at London what he could about the industry, and reassured himself of its possibilities for his own country. In the Spring of 1878, under his lead, the Pope Manufacturing Company entered upon the manufacture which has resulted in its present proportions. Where there were a dozen bicycles then there are nearly as many thousands now. They have become the popular vehicles, and the popular means of athletic recreation and contest. Not only are hundreds thriving by this industry as a means of livelihood, but it has also opened a market for English makers by stimulating importations by those who always want a foreign thing in preference to one made at home; and it has given an impetus to the trade in children’s velocipedes, and developed a new departure of great extent in boy’s bicycles of cheap construction. Many are now reaping in the field which Colonel Pope has sewn with unsparing hand.


   The literature of bicycling in this country, springing from a book entitled “ The American Bicycler,” by Charles E. Pratt, a Boston lawyer, first published in the Spring of 1879 and which has passed through two large editions, has become copious.  Books, magazine articles, bicycling papers, the daily and weekly press, have made the history and uses of this modern carriage familiar everywhere; whilst “the wheel” itself, in club runs and national L.A.W. meets, in races and on long excursions, has noiselessly and gracefully gained the favor of the American public. Clergymen, physicians, lawyers, merchants, manufacturers, schoolmasters, messengers, clerks, farmers, students-in fact, people in every profession and walk in life, have given it their approval and the sanction of their own example.

   The “Columbia Bicycle” helps to spread the gospel of Christian civilization, and aids in the physical salvation of the race. It is an economizer of time and strength and expense. Wherever one would care to drive with a horse and buggy, he can go as fast and as far and as pleasantly with a bicycle, and be twice as independent.  For the Summer stroll of Autumn ramble, for the social call and the week’s excursion, it is the readiest and most enjoyable conveyance.

   Bicycling is a manly art. It strengthens and develops the faculties of mind and body; quickness of judgment, alertness and grace of motion, pluck, endurance, independence and self-reliance, may be set down as the qualities to be found in a good bicycler. It was frequent remark at the hotels, on the occasion of the last May “meet” of the League of American Wheelmen, “Why the bicyclers are all gentlemen!”


    It is a healthful exercise, as the writer of this article knows by experience: it exercises the lungs, the arms, the back and the chest as well as the legs; it braces the nerves and promotes good circulation of the blood; it sharpens the appetite, and insures sound sleep. Amongst all the recreations which the writer has tried, this is easily chief; and he will be glad if the reading of this article may encourage many who have not yet tried it to partake of its benefits and enjoyments.

   There is still some notion abroad that this is a difficult art to learn. It may be acquired by any one in five half-hours. Boys step to the bicycle from their velocipedes without hesitation. The young man learns more quickly; but none of active life or free use of limbs are too old to take up and make it convenient and enjoyable. For those who are too timid for the bicycle, there are the so-called “safety bicycles” and the tricycle, which in their measure approach the first; but the bicycle is, and is likely to  remain, the prince of velocipedes.

   The reader will pardon this digression upon the uses of the machine, the manufacture of which was to be described. They illustrate the probable, nay, almost certain, permanence and increase of this new industry. What one establishment is, and has done in four years or less has been briefly sketched. What it will become in the next four years is a matter for conjecture; but the success of the American Columbia Bicycle is assured, and its permanence as and instrument of pleasure and a factor is industrial pursuits is established.


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