A number of attempts were made a few years ago to introduce hickory wheels in place of the wire suspension wheels, among the most notable being a bicycle built by Sterling Elliott, and called the Hickory. The frame was built of tubing as was usual, but the wheels – hubs, spokes and rims – were made of hickory, the spokes being known as radial spokes. In order to maintain its rigidness and to carry the pneumatic tyre the rim was surrounded by a metallic band in which the tyre was placed.
– The modern Bicycle and its Accessories, by Alex Schwalbach and Julies Wilcox, 1898
The most important aspect of the transition from the Hobby Horse and Velocipede (via the Ordinary) to the Safety Bicycle – the final version of the bicycle whose design remains virtually unchanged today – is wheels and tyres. Despite advancements in the bicycle’s own mechanisms, usable wheels and tyres were the critical factor affecting mass adoption of the machine by the public. Cartwheels were already available during the bicycle’s infancy, so they were adapted for this new mode of transport; they were fitted to early automobiles too. The American bicycle industry continued using wooden bicycle wheels and pneumatic single tube tyres even when they became obsolete after the turn of the century.
But, by the 1890s, metal spokes were fitted to all bicycle wheels …except for this one company that continued to use hickory spokes, which they also manufactured for horse-drawn buggies. This model manufactured by the Elliott Hickory Wheel Co, using a standard metal frame but fitted with their own wooden wheels and wooden spokes, is a unique machine that seems to represent a link between the old boneshaker and the ‘new’ safety bicycle of the 1890s.
Elliott Senior and Junior were avid inventors and patentees. Sterling Elliott (the father) registered 104 patents, 29 of them relating to bicycles or tricycles. Harmon Elliott registered 108. They had a profound influence on the evolution of bicycles, horse drawn sulkies, automobile steering mechanisms, and addressing machines. In 1887 Sterling built a large hall so his customers could learn to ride bicycles; he also built a quadricycle for his wife. Using the quadricycle in this hall led to his invention of the tie-rod steering mechanism vital to the development of the automobile.
Incidentally, the Elliott family lived across the street from the Stanley Brothers, who used Elliott’s quadricycle as a pattern for their Stanley Steamer. This was Elliott’s first car. (The 1903 Steamer pictured below is displayed at the Elliott Museum*)
1892 Elliott Hickory Model ‘A’ Safety Bicycle
As you can see, below, it’s described as a Hickory ‘A’ (Stripped). I’ve reproduced the entire catalogue on the next page, where you can see that they also made a version with mudguards and front brake. Most companies of the day described their ‘stripped’ versions as a ‘road racer’ or something similar, but the Hickory Wheel Co really had fun with their catalogues, which are the most eccentric I’ve ever seen (Some Sterling Elliott wacky humour is reproduced here; afterwards, read the 1892 Old Hickory Almanac). The Elliott Wheel Co comes across as a ‘local family business’ whose boss who had an offbeat sense of humour. I’ll see if I can find out more about the company’s ‘publicity dept.’
It was common at the time to remove all accessories and extras to provide the lightest possible bicycle …remember that uphill travelling on a safety bicycle requires dismounting and pushing.
1892 ELLIOT WHEEL Co CATALOGUE
SHORT VIDEO OF ELLIOTT HICKORY SAFETY BICYCLE
HISTORY OF THIS ELLIOTT HICKORY SAFETY
I purchased this rare historic bicycle in Amish country, southern Ohio. The photo above was my first view of it. It was stripped and boxed for me by a local Amish bicycle shop; they didn’t have a car, so they delivered it for me by taxi to the nearest UPS Store, who assisted its passage to England.
You can compare the wheels on this bicycle with the Amish wagon, above.
The Men’s Elliott Hickory Safety Bicycle is one of the rarest bicycles of its type, far less common, for example, than other top 1890s bicycles such as Columbia and Victor, or later upmarket bikes from Harley Davidson and Indian. The company also made a ‘Hickory B’ which was the Lady’s version; this fascinating rare model also commands high prices.
This Hickory’s license tag, fitted to the near side fork leg, shows it was registered in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, in 1899. This is only 30 miles from Berlin, Ohio, where I purchased it. It’s quite likely this bicycle has remained in this area all its life.
After its Transatlantic crossing, the Hickory was re-assembled and made its debut at Brooklands Museum Cycle Day, to much interest from fellow VCC members. When I purchased it, the only non-original item was the saddle.* I had ordered a (very expensive) original saddle from America but it had not arrived in time for Brooklands (though you’ll see it in the other photos).
The Hickory has now settled into the hills outside Brighton, and is seen here in Ovingdean.
An interesting feature of the bicycle is that, when new, this model was fitted with Columbia parts.
We’re currently reproducing a front brake from the 1892 Columbia Safety (seen on another page). Though the ‘Stripped’ had no brake, it’s a very useful accessory 🙂
Once fitted, I’ll update these photos (many of the pages here illustrate ongoing projects and the pages evolve as the restorations progress).
ELLIOTT STEERING HEAD & HANDLEBARS
THE ELLIOTT TUTOR
Pope Mfg Co endorsed Elliott’s patented ‘Tutor’ – fitted with strongly braced outriggers – which was used by many of the top riding schools through out America.
Colonel Pope was a prodigious collector of bicycle patents, and would have been keen on a good relationship with a company who were patenting so many inventions.
PEDALS AND ‘SPROCKET WHEEL’ (CHAINWHEEL)
COLUMBIA KIRKPATRICK SADDLE
The ‘clip’ joining the base of the saddle to the seat pillar is an important part of a 110-year-old saddle; these are made of cast, so they are hard to reproduce. There are many varieties, but all early saddles would have used them.
HICKORY WHEEL Co
South Framingham, Mass
Though the 1898 book I quoted at the top of this page explained that the hubs, spokes and wheels are all made from hickory, the advert below states that the wheel rims were made of white ash; I assume that ash was also used. The bicycle frames were made of metal, their frames and components supplied by Columbia. The advert further down the page shows that the spokes are made of hickory.
STERLING & HARMON ELLIOTT
Every automobile manufacturer knows that his automobile steering mechanism was invented by Sterling Elliott for his four-wheeled rubber-tired quadricycle in 1887. But few automobile manufacturers know that the Sterling Elliott steering mechanism – which made the automobile possible – was invented because Mrs Sterling Elliott rode this Elliott quadricycle around a dance floor.
Here’s the story: In 1887 Sterling Elliott built a large hall with a hardwood floor in which people could learn to ride his bicycles. One night the Elliott employees had a dance party in this hall and waxed the floor for dancing. The next day when this quadricycle made turns on this waxed floor a loud screeching noise was caused by its hard rubber tires. Sterling Elliott’s stufy of the cause of that screeching noise resulted in an invention so simple and yet so perfect that it will live forever.
– The Story of a Father and Son or Unscrewing the Inscrutable, The Elliott Addressing Machine Co, Massachusetts, 1941
Hickory wood is very hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. The U.S. Forest Service pamphlet Important Trees of Eastern Forests states: ‘There are some woods that are stronger than hickory and some that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.’ It had many traditional uses throughout American history, including wheel spokes, carts, tool handles, golf club shafts, paddles, baseball bats, wood flooring, as well as for smoking cured meats. As a result, hickory became engrained into the American psyche.
American General Andrew Jackson had defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He became the seventh US president in 1829, holding office until 1837, and his followers created the modern Democratic party. He was a rich slave owner who appealed to the American masses and fought against what he denounced as a closed undemocratic aristocracy. Such was his toughness and aggressive personality that he was nicknamed ‘Old Hickory.’ The 30th Infantry Division, formed in 1917 for WW1, was nicknamed the ‘Old Hickory’ division in his honour.
OLD HICKORY CYCLE CO
Lewis St, Chicago, Ill
The Old Hickory Cycle Co is a different company. Their products are interesting to compare, however, as, around 1897-1899, they manufactured the Old Hickory bicycle, which had a wooden frame.
THE ELLIOTT MUSEUM – http://www.elliottmuseumfl.org
Hickory Wheel Co catalogues on the next two pages
(with thanks to Ross Hill)
IS THE PLACE WHERE YOU PARK YOUR BOTTOM A SEAT OR A SADDLE?
A bicycle saddle is known as a ‘seat’ in the American vernacular.
When an American bicycle is imported to Great Britain does it still have a seat, or is it now a saddle?