Firsts in bicycle manufacturing

Bicycle manufacturers were early adopters of electric resistance welding, invented by Elihu Thomson in 1886. Hollow tubular steel—which provided lightweight strength—was developed for use in bicycles frames. Cycling innovators also introduced ball bearings, chain drives, differential gears, and air-filled tires. These technologies were transferred from bicycles to automobiles. 

Schwinn factory in Chicago, 1890s

Schwinn factory in Chicago, 1890s

Courtesy of Mark Mattei, Cycle Smithy Collection 

“America has made the most wonderful progress in the development of the wheel, and her manufacturers have been so alert and enterprising . . . that the American wheel is to-day the most beautiful mechanism and the lightest and easiest running of any wheel manufactured in any country.”

 — Scientific American, January 4, 1896

Electric welder, 1885

Electric welder, 1885

From the Museum's collection

Side view of electric welder, 1885

Side view of electric welder, 1885

From the Museum's collection

Here’s how electric welders worked: electric current was applied to the metal pieces; where the edges of the metal met, resistance to the current produced enough heat to fuse them together under pressure.

Welded tubular steel, developed for bicycle frames

Welded tubular steel, developed for bicycle frames

From the Museum's collection, gift of Thomson Electric Welding Co.

Catalog, 1887

Catalog, 1887

Courtesy of Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard University