C. Bonnet and C. Morel were individual cycle builders in the 1890s. This extremely rare French machine is of particular historical significance because of Charles Morel’s other vehicle designs, namely the Sociable ‘La Victoriette’ automobile, and the ‘Captain Gerard’ military folding bicycle.
Charles Morel (1848-1914) displayed an early interest in machinery, apprenticing himself to a mechanic in his native Vienne. Within a few years he progressed to managing small machine shops in southeastern France. He was a gifted inventor, securing seventy one patents during his career, starting in 1874 with a patent for a wool-combing machine. As well as the Victoriette and Gapt Gerard, he invented machines to crush and sift minerals for the cement and lime industries; his machines using steel pellets and centrifugal force are still the basis of many modern crushers.
At first, lacking the capital to build his own machinery, he exchanged his patent rights for a portion of the profits from sales, and subsequently contracted firms to build machines under his supervision. These arrangements invariably led to conflicts. So, in 1891, he opened his own factory in the small town of Domene in Isere, and funded his inventions from sales of his machines.
A few years later Charles Morel designed the ‘Captain Gerard’ folding military bicycle, subsequently manufactured by Peugeot. His business partner at that time was Capt Gerard. But it was Gerard’s name rather than Morel’s that ended up being associated with the bicycle, so initially it was assumed he was also the inventor.
1907 Bonnet & Morel ‘La France’
Velo de Course/ Road Racer
1898 Patent Eadie Coaster Brake
I’m not sure of Morel’s contribution within the partnership of Bonnet & Morel, but the chainwheel on this particular bicycle, illustrated below, contains the initial ‘B’ …for Bonnet.
The ‘La France’ is in good unrestored original cosmetic condition. It is sound and rustfree.
We recently serviced it, and it’s ready to ride.
BONNET & MOREL
74 Route de Chatillon, Malakoff, Seine, France
As can be seen from the above poster, Bonnet et Morel made both sewing machines and bicycles, a combination that was common in the early days of cycle manufacture.
Their sewing machines included the Aurore, La France and Le Reve.
The poster below illustrates pneumatic tyres advertised by Morel, and below that is a headbadge, believed from 1911, of a Bonnet ‘Imperial’ bicycle.
THE GERARD-MOREL PATENT
Quite a few historical texts claim that the French military invented the first folding bike. In particular, a French military officer named Captain Gérard is given credit. This simply was not true but there is an fascinating story behind this misnomer. A complete telling of the story is in a book entitled “Charles Morel – constructeur dauphinois sous la troisième république”. Since it is in French, here’s the short version: Charles Morel, a wealthy French industrialist, became enamored with the relatively new bicycle craze and devised of a folding bicycle and built a prototype in 1892. Independently, in 1893, a French army lieutenant named Henry Gérard imagined the use of a folding bike by the army and filed a patent for one through his father-in-law Henri Noêl on June 27, 1893. The problem was that this bike was deeply flawed and basically didn’t work. While looking for help to fix the design flaws he was introduced to Charles Morel. Mr. Morel showed his prototype bike to Gérard and suggested that he meet with one of his mechanics named Dulac and get his help in perfecting a working folding bike design. Dulac was successful in this endeavor so on Oct. 5, 1894 Charles Morel and Lieutenant Gérard entered into an agreement to manufacture and commercialize a folding bike. Morel would finance and oversee the manufacturing and Gérard would promote it. Production of the bike began in April of 1895 and it was an immediate success with orders quickly exceeding production capacity. In October of 1895 a retail store was opened in Paris to sell the bike to the public. Gérard was tasked to market to the French military which were subsequently supplied with 25 test bikes. The Romanian and Russian armies placed orders as well. Lieutenant Gérard was successful in selling the idea of using folding bikes to the army and was ultimately put in charge of a regiment of folding bike equipped soldiers and was eventually promoted to the rank of Captain, largely because this folding bike. Charles Morel let Gérard become the public face of their folding bike joint venture, leading everyone to believe that Captain Gérard was the father of the idea when in fact Mr. Morel had the idea first and completely financed the venture. After a while Captain Gérard started to believe this hype himself and sued Mr. Morel for what he though was his fair share of the profits. This caused a falling out between the two men culminating in the dissolution of the partnership. The patents for the folding bike were eventually sold to a consortium of Peugeot, Michelin, and the French army and they took over production of the bike in 1899. This folding bike first appeared in the Peugeot sales catalog in 1899, which has led some historians to erroneously believe that it was invented by Peugeot.
So what became widely known as the “Captain Gérard folding bike” was not actually the first folding bike, since Emmit Latta’s bike preceded it by a number of years, nor was it actually invented by Captain Gérard. However, it probably was the first folding bike manufactured in relatively large volume. I was able to find a patent application made in England for the “Captain Gerard folding bike” dated January 18, 1896 (two years later than the French patent mentioned). Henry Gérard is listed as the co-inventor on the patent along with Charles Morel.
1898 PATENT EADIE COASTER HUB
Info on Charles Morel – http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8341289
Info on Capt Gerard – http://www.foldingcyclist.com/folding-bike-history.html