Clarke Gasoline Tricycle, 1897

Clarke Gasoline Tricycle, 1897

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This gasoline-powered tricycle was built by Louis S. Clarke in 1897. The vehicle is a conventional tricycle equipped with a one- cylinder, air-cooled engine that drives the rear wheels. The frame consists of standard bicycle parts with additional custom parts designed and fabricated by Clarke. In 1897 Clarke founded the Pittsburg Motor Vehicle Company in Pittsburgh, Pa., and served as president and engineer. The next year the company built its first 4-wheel automobile. In 1899 Clarke changed the company’s name to the Autocar Company, a brand that survives today. This tricycle is often called “Autocar No. 1” due to this history.
The one-cylinder engine has a mechanically operated exhaust valve and an automatic intake valve. On its crankshaft extension is a gear that meshes directly with the ring gear of the differential. No gear changes are provided. A single lever operates both the clutch (located on the crankshaft extension between the engine and the driving gear) and a band brake on the drum of the clutch. There is no throttle, but the engine speed can be varied by means of a spark-advance lever, and there is a fuel-flow regulator on the exhaust-heated, gasoline vaporizer. The main exhaust pipe leads into a small muffler. The gasoline tank is in the frame beneath the saddle, and the batteries and high-tension coil are in a box farther forward in the frame. Bicycle pedals, with the usual sprockets and chain, enable the rider to start the engine and, in event of a breakdown, to propel the vehicle. An overrunning clutch is built into this gearing so that the pedals are not driven by the engine while the tricycle is in motion.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Other Terms
Tricycle, Clark, 1897; Tricycle; Road
Date made
Clarke, Louis S.
Associated Place
United States: Maryland
United States: Pennsylvania
overall: 72 in x 40 in x 40 in; 182.88 cm x 101.6 cm x 101.6 cm
on pallet: 53 in x 40 1/8 in x 72 1/8 in; 134.62 cm x 101.9175 cm x 183.1975 cm
overall: 43 in x 37 1/2 in x 75 in; 109.22 cm x 95.25 cm x 190.5 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Louis S. Clarke
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
America on the Move
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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