Rise of the Ordinary

 

By the early 1870s, bicycles and tricycles using wire-spoked wheels were commonly seen, notably in England. James Starley of Coventry introduced the Ariel in 1871, a high-wheeled bicycle with wire spokes that was copied for two decades. This type of cycle, with modifications, gained popularity and later became known as an “Ordinary” in the 1890s.

Americans again became interested in bicycles, and began importing machines from England. Albert A. Pope became the first American bicycle manufacturer. In 1878 he began manufacturing bicycles under the trade name “Columbia” in Connecticut.

Ordinary Bicycle Tour, 1879.

Ordinary Bicycle Tour, Readville, Massachusetts, 1879.The first rider is Charles E. Pratt, noted bicycle author, coorganizer, and first president of the League of American Wheelmen, and later attorney for the Pope Manufacturing Co. The second man is Col. Albert A. Pope, president of the famed company bearing his name, manufacturer of the Columbia bicycle.

The Ordinary, or high-wheel bicycle, was light weight and fast. But it was also hazardous, since the rider's center of gravity was only slightly behind the large front wheel and the rider was in danger of taking what came to be called a “header”—flying over the handlebars. Because of the Ordinary's inherent danger, efforts were made to design a safer bicycle. Some people tried to modify the Ordinary to make it safer, others put their efforst into redesigning the bicycle.

The latter path won out as “Safety” bicycles became more popular. These cycles had two small wheels of equal size, a chain driver, and gears. Soon after the advent of the Safety bicycle, John Boyd Dunlop patented a pneumatic tire (in both England and the United States). Brakes were also improved in the 1890s. The number of bicycles in use boomed as production rose from an estimated 200,000 bicycles in 1889 to 1,000,000 in 1899.

The Pope Manufacturing Company made this Columbia Light Roadster model bicycle around 1888.
Description
The Pope Manufacturing Company made this Columbia Light Roadster model bicycle around 1888. The introduction of the safety bicycle with equal-sized wheels made Ordinary (or high-wheeler) less popular, and Pope introduced a safety model in 1888, and ceased production of the Ordinary in 1892. Albert A. Pope founded the Pope Manufacturing Company in the 1870s. The company was the first company to manufacture bicycles on American soil. Pope, who had previously exported bicycles from England, began building bicycles under the trade name "Columbia" in the Weed Sewing Machine Company's factory in Hartford Connecticut in 1879. By 1890, the company was so successful it purchased the factory from Weed because it needed all the space.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1888
ID Number
TR.313371
catalog number
313371
accession number
182167
This is a Standard Columbia bicycle made by The Pope Manufacturing Company of Boston, Massachusetts around 1881. The Standard Columbia was available in models with front-wheel diameters ranging from 42 to 58 inches.
Description
This is a Standard Columbia bicycle made by The Pope Manufacturing Company of Boston, Massachusetts around 1881. The Standard Columbia was available in models with front-wheel diameters ranging from 42 to 58 inches. This particular Standard Columbia has a 54- inch wheel and sold for $95. Mr. Frank E. Waring used this in the Washington, D.C., area.
In the 1870s Albert A. Pope founded the Pope Manufacturing Company, the first company to manufacture bicycles on American soil. Pope had previously sold bicycles exported from England, but began building bicycles under the trade name "Columbia" in the Weed Sewing Machine Company's factory in Hartford Connecticut in 1879. By 1890, the company was so successful it had bought the factory from Weed because it needed all the space.
This Standard Columbia has a 54-inch front wheel with 44 radial spokes, and an 18-inch rear wheel with 18 radial spokes, weighing 49 pounds. The 1881 catalog states that this model came in two colors . On the left side of the backbone, under the seat, is a brass manufacturer's nameplate. At the upper end of the forged-steel front fork is the open steering head containing the long steering spindle, which can be adjusted by means of a bolt passing through the top of the head. Straight handlebars carry pear- shaped grips of Siamese buffalo horn and a brake lever on the right side that operates the spoon brake on the front tire. The front-wheel bearings are adjustable double cones, fitting into hardened boxes in the hubs. They are adjusted for wear by an eccentric in the bottom of the fork. The adjustable pedal cranks allow the throw to vary from 5 to 6 inches.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1881
Associated Name
Pope, Albert Augustus
maker
Pope Manufacturing Company
ID Number
TR.330156
catalog number
330156
accession number
288679
High-wheel bicycles were the first common type of personal, mechanized transportation. Equipped with pedals but no chain, the diameter of the front wheel and the rider’s strength provided rapid speed for the first time in cycling history.
Description
High-wheel bicycles were the first common type of personal, mechanized transportation. Equipped with pedals but no chain, the diameter of the front wheel and the rider’s strength provided rapid speed for the first time in cycling history. The Pope Manufacturing Company dominated the bicycle market in the 1880s with its Columbia brand of high-wheel bicycles, and later with Columbia safety bicycles in the 1890s. Albert A. Pope, the nation’s leading mass producer of bicycles, introduced thousands of Americans to the benefits and pleasures of personal mobility. His factories in Hartford, Connecticut excelled at producing lightweight tubular steel frames, pneumatic tires, and other bicycle parts in vast quantities. Pope also was adept at influencing the social and political landscape; he was instrumental in promoting bicycle touring, starting the good roads movement, and defining the concept of personal mobility independent of trains.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1886
maker
Pope Manufacturing Company
ID Number
1994.0279.02
accession number
1994.0279
serial number
13676
catalog number
1994.0279.02
This high-wheeler bicycle was built by the Overman Wheel Company of Boston, Massachusetts around 1886. This bicycle was Overman’s Victor model, which was ridden to many racing victories in the late 1880s by Stacy Cassady, of Millville, New Jersey.
Description
This high-wheeler bicycle was built by the Overman Wheel Company of Boston, Massachusetts around 1886. This bicycle was Overman’s Victor model, which was ridden to many racing victories in the late 1880s by Stacy Cassady, of Millville, New Jersey. It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1921.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1886
maker
Overman Wheel Co.
ID Number
TR.307216
catalog number
307216
accession number
66457

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.