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CYCLE BRAKES: 1898, A New Departure

 

CYCLE BRAKES: 1898, A New Departure

Prior to 1898, bicycles had appeared with braking mechanisms associated with the driving systems, but these did not include coasting or free-wheeling features. The idea of a coaster brake for bicycles appeared in the patent applications of Harry P. Townsend, of the New Departure Manufacturing Co., Bristol, Conn., in 1898; James S. Copeland, of the Pope Manufacturing Co., also in 1898 ; and William Robinson, of Brooklyn, N. Y., in 1899.

These issued as patents, respectively, in 1907, 1913, and 1903. It is stated that the Townsend patent, No. 850077, contained the broad and controlling claims.

The 1898 catalog of the Pope Manufacturing Co. describes the Columbia New Departure automatic brake, first used by them in that year, as a device for which a need had long existed. There is no doubt that the wide- spread adoption of the coaster brake made the bicycle a much safer vehicle to ride.

 

Within these pages you can read about various problems facing riders of safety bicycles during Victorian times caused by the lack of brakes on the fixed-wheel machines. It’s enough of an issue getting these heavy bikes up steep inclines. Once passing the top of the hill, and faced with pedalling down slowly, restricted by the fixed revolutions of the wheel, there’s an obvious temptation to rest the feet on the front pegs and coast down despite obvious danger to life and limb.

With regular newspaper reports throughout the 1890s, of injury, and sometimes death, in such circumstances – not only to riders, but also to pedestrians unfortunate to be in the path of the speeding machines – something had to be done. But bicycle evolution was the only solution. It was not until the mid-nineties that a brake became a standard bicycle accessory, and then it was generally only a front ‘paddle’ brake set up over the front wheel. Rear brakes took longer to perfect, the back-pedalling ‘coaster’ brake making its debut in 1898.

A coaster brake is my personal preference for safety bicycles. Due to restrictive business practice by large corporation monopolies, up to 1931 American bicycles were fitted with wooden wheels and single tube pneumatic tyres. By the 21st century the majority of these wheels are in poor condition, and replacement tyres are hard to find, the only versions currently available being an expensive solid rubber version sold in the USA which add too much weight to the wheel to be practical to ride.

At the same time, British manufacturers used metal wheel rims. So I’ve now started building coaster hubs into British metal wheel rims for use on American bicycles. Though early coaster hubs are not cheap, and early wheels not easy to locate, the result is nevertheless worth the effort, meaning a cheaper and safer wheel-set …and a machine that can be used more regularly.

 

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AUTOMATIC REAR HUB BRAKES

1900 THE CYCLISTS YEAR BOOK: BRAKES


NEW DEPARTURE HISTORY

The New Departure Bell Company was formed in 1888 by brothers Albert and Edward Rockwell in Bristol, Connecticut as a manufacturer of doorbells. They began operations at one end of a clock factory, manufacturing doorbells. Soon after, they branched out manufacturing various other products. New Departure introduced the bicycle coaster brake in 1898, and in 1903 they also began making brakes for belt and chain-driven motorcycles. Large quantities of bicycle front and rear wheel hubs were produced.

In 1904, the Rockwells produced an automobile, followed by the Rockwell Taxi Cab in 1907. Automobile production ceased four years later. In 1912, Albert organized the Yellow Cab Company, which went into receivership after only one year.

In 1908, New Departure developed the double row bearing capable of handling both radial and thrust loads from either direction and in 1909 obtained a patent for it. In 1910, the company developed the angular contact or Radax single row bearing that took radial loads, as well as thrust loads from one direction.

In 1916, New Departure, Hyatt Roller Bearing, Westom-Mott Axle, Remy Electric Company, Perriman Rim Company and Dayton Engineering Laboratories were purchased by William Durant, president of General Motors, in 1916, and put under the United Motors Corporation name with Alfred Sloan as President. In 1918, General Motors acquired United Motors outright with Sloan becoming a GM Vice President, and President of General Motors five years later.

During World War II, New Departure produced ultra precision instrument bearings that were used in the Norden bomb-sight, one of the U.S. Air Forces most powerful weapons.

1908 NEW DEPARTURE COASTER BRAKE CATALOGUE