1900 WESTERN UNION Messenger’s Bike

 

 

The following interview is being conducted through Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project in the Hampden Woodbury Community.  The interviewee is Mr. Luther Butler and the interviewer is Susan Hawes.  Today is August 3rd, 1979:

SH:  The interesting thing about your life, seems to be that the variety of jobs that you had and the different job experiences that you had. Wonder if you could briefly describes your jobs a little bit and tell me which one was your favorite one, If you could briefly describe the jobs that you had? LB: Well, The first job I was a messenger boy for the Western Union Telegraph Company.  I was delivering telegrams with a bicycle and then later on, I progressed and became of age to get a drivers license and went to work with a motorcycle for Western Union. I made a little bit more money and delivering to all the various counties.  Because we didn’t have communications like you have now and I was assigned more or less to deliver messages to all the various police departments in the twenty three counties. I wasn’t making much money and I was making about, even with my motorcycle about, fourteen to fourteen fifty dollars a week – if I had a real good week. Then, I got a job at the Hampden Transfer Storage and that was where my stepfather worked and he got me a job there.  Later on and I was promoted to a driver.  I went from twenty cents an hours to twenty five cents an hour. 

– Transcribed and edited by John Brockenwitch, ANTH 640, University of Maryland, October 2005*

In the 21st century, the mobile phone and internet provide instant communication. So it may be hard to imagine how complicated it was to get in touch with someone before the 1920s. The fastest way was to go to  a Western Union office (If you had a telephone, you could call them). They would use morse code to send a telegram to the relevant Western Union telegraph office.
When the message was received by that office, a uniformed messenger – usually a young boy – would deliver a written or printed copy to the destination address. In larger American cities, Western Union messengers usually delivered telegrams by bicycle.
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The company typically employed young teenage boys, for low wages. In the early decades of the twentieth century, money and jobs were scarce and young boys often had to support their families. The boys in the photo below are around twelve to fourteen years of age. One of the boys, Jason Roberts (third from left in the photo below), remembered wearing down three different bicycles while working there. He also tried chainless (shaft-drive) Pierce bicycles to see if they were any better.
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1900 Western Union Messenger’s Bike

M.C Mfg Co, Chicago ‘King’ Men’s Roadster

24″ Frame

28″ Metal Wheels

28 x 1 1/2″ Tyres

Coaster Brake

(Now sold)

WESTERN UNION EPHEMERA INCLUDED IN THIS AUCTION SALE:

1. WESTERN UNION EMPLOYEES COLLECT CARD

2. WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM INFORMING OF DEATH OF SOLDIER IN WW1

3. WESTERN UNION DE LUXE RADIO-TELEGRAPH SIGNAL SET

4. WESTERN UNION POSTER

(Now sold)

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This Western Union Messenger bicycle is a King Roadster, made by M.C Mfg Co of Chicago.

It was restored several years ago. The paintwork is now scratched here and there.

Apart from pumping up the rear tyre, it’s ready to ride.

The auction includes some Western Union ephemera.

This machine is ideal for vintage rides and displays, with a signboard illustrating how lads a hundred years ago used their bicycles to deliver telegrams.

 

 

 

 

 

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WESTERN UNION EPHEMERA INCLUDED IN THIS AUCTION SALE:

1. WESTERN UNION EMPLOYEES COLLECT CARD

2. WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM INFORMING OF DEATH OF SOLDIER IN WW1

3. WESTERN UNION DE LUXE RADIO-TELEGRAPH SIGNAL SET

4. WESTERN UNION POSTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

western union poster

 

 

 

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M.C Mfg Co

CHICAGO, USA

 Not much is known about the manufacturer M.C. Manufacturing of Chicago. They were one of many thousands of small American manufacturers, in an area where some of the largest bicycle makers had their factories. By 1900 nearly all the small companies had been swallowed up by the big boys.

Monarch of Chicago used the name ‘King’ and so did Sears Roebuck. Both were based in Chicago. It’s likely that this bicycle was one that was built by a large manufacturer and supplied to a local department store who rebadged it.

         

 

 

 

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* Western Union info and photo – http://texashideout.tripod.com/employers.html