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1914 Twombly cyclecar

1914 Twombly cyclecar

Cyclecars were small, inexpensive automobiles that resembled a cross between a car and a motorcycle. For a brief period in the mid-1910s, cyclecar enthusiasts believed that this type of vehicle offered the promise of personal mobility for the masses. The two-passenger 1914 Twombly cyclecar cost $395, compared with $450 for a 1914 Ford Model T runabout. Its manufacturer, W. Irving TwThe famous factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania was not the original location of Milton Snavely Hershey's candy-making enterprise. M.S. Hershey had attempted a number of business ventures in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago before settling back in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the early 1890s, and opening a caramel candy making company. Twombly, was an airplane and automobile enthusiast who was attracted to the cyclecar fad. He established the Twombly Car Corporation in New York City in 1913 and served as a director of the Cyclecar Manufacturers National Association. Twombly claimed that his 1914 Light Underslung model could run at speeds up to 50 miles per hour and could travel 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline. Cyclecars attracted an avid following for about two years (1913-1915), but their usefulness was limited by weak, inefficient mechanical systems. Meanwhile the price of a Ford Model T continued to drop because of Ford's mass production methods. Soon it became evident that the Ford Model T fit the description of "a car for the masses" better than anything else on the road, and cyclecar sales declined. By 1915 Twombly's company was bankrupt.
The long, narrow body of the 1914 Twombly cyclecar held a driver and one passenger seated behind the driver. The wheelbase is 100 inches, and the tread is only 38 inches. The four-cylinder, 15-horsepower engine is water-cooled; most cyclecars had air-cooled engines. Friction transmission and chain drive provided power to the rear wheels. The Twombly cyclecar weighs only 700 pounds.
The cyclecar craze of the mid-1910s was an attempt to democratize automobile ownership by manufacturing cars that were smaller, less expensive, and more economical to maintain and operate than standard touring cars and runabouts. One headline about the advent of cyclecars proclaimed, "Poor Man's Auto is Here at Last." Scores of companies built and sold two-passenger cars with belt drive or chain drive transmission. Advocates claimed that a cyclecar was better suited to muddy or rutted roads because of its light weight and narrow profile. Some cyclecars, including Twombly, were so narrow that they had tandem seating (one seat behind the other). Unorthodox mechanical features installed on cyclecars included wooden brakes, friction transmission, and an air-cooled engine placed in the rear, but these systems did not work well. Soon it became apparent that the cyclecar was not a viable solution to personal transportation needs and could not compete with the mass-market Ford Model T. Despite its ultimate failure, the cyclecar fad reflects intense interest in the promise of motorized mobility and a quixotic, grass-roots effort to build small cars that were equal to standard production cars at a fraction of the cost.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
Twombly Car Corporation
Place Made
United States: New York, New York City
Physical Description
steel (body material)
rubber (tires material)
overall: automobile: 50 1/2 in x 46 1/4 in x 134 in; 128.27 cm x 117.475 cm x 340.36 cm
overall: engine: 22 1/2 in x 17 in x 34 in; 57.15 cm x 43.18 cm x 86.36 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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