The Autoped was spiffy transport in the burgeoning metropolis of New York City, and some fun to fly through traffic upon. Groups of rowdy youth were soon terrorizing the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. One such was the Long Island Bogtrotters, led by the eventually legendary Fat Burns himself, who conducted the first and last Yonkers Grand Prix.
This fascinating machine represents the world’s first model of scooter. It was the only motorcycle to be built in New York City. Though adopted by the U.S. Post Office and other services – as well as fashion-conscious women in Europe and America – it was also used by New York gang members for easy getaways – they could motor down narrow alleys to escape police in cars behind them.
1918 Eveready Autoped Scooter
This Autoped is in remarkably original condition. It even has its original 1918 tyres!
AUTOPED Co of AMERICA, New York, USA
The Autoped, and its predecessor the Motoped, were the true ancestors of the modern motor scooter. Introduced in 1915, and designed by Arthur Gibson and Joseph Merkel (designer of the Flying Merkel), it was the first motor scooter to enter production. Essentially an enlarged child’s scooter with an engine mounted over the front wheel, the air-cooled 155cc four-stroke engine claimed speeds of 30mph; though the clutch and brake were activated by moving the steering column forwards or backwards, so it could be unsteady over 20mph. In 1918 the Eveready Battery Co bought into the company and a battery and coil were fitted to the machine. It was now promoted as an Eveready Autoped.
Its reputation quickly spread around the world, being made under license in Germany by Krupp and, in Czechoslovakia, by CAS.
The Autoped made its British debut in early January 1917. The actress Miss Shirley Kellogg rode one in Hyde Park, a stage-managed performance for the motorcycling press, complete with a policeman who was photographed examining her driving license.
The flywheel cover was removed by the previous owner; it’s in a box, and I’ve not got round to replacing it. It would be an easy job to recommission this rare scooter, but I’ve been so inundated with other projects that it has remained in the queue.
Scooters were in the news in 1962. The News, Portsmouth’s local rag, had been running articles on them, and added a short feature about an Autoped (above) as a footnote.
This Autoped was found in a bombed out house in Portsmouth after the war. It was rescued from a local scrapyard by Mr. Kaminski of Southsea. Below you can see some correspondence from 1957, from The Motor Cycle magazine and Beaulieu museum.
The correspondence obviously inspired The Motor Cycle to run the following short article (7 March 1957).
The previous owner bought it in 1968 from Mr. Kaminski. It has a registration document from 1974, so I’ll check with the Portsmouth authorities to see if I can find earlier records.
VACUUM OIL Co – GARGOYLE OIL
The 1910s was still early days for Vacuum Oil Co and their products such as Mobiloil. I’m so impressed by the innovative promotional exercise of fixing a permanent plate onto the Autoped to advertise the company that I’ve added a history of the company.
VACUUM OIL COMPANY had formed as a petroleum company in the United States in 1866 and by the late 1890’s had expanded its operations to Europe and Australia. In 1911 a new company was formed in the United States called “Standard Oil Company of New York” (socony) and in 1920 this company registered a new trade mark called “Mobiloil”. Also in 1911 another new company, Magnolia Petroleum Company, was formed and its trade mark was a red winged horse “Pegasus”. Here then were three ingredients that were to come together in mergers and affiliations to produce the brands and trade marks that are so well known today. 1931 saw the merger of Socony and Vacuum Oil Company and a short while later the merged company Socony – Vacuum affiliated with Magnolia Petroleum Company and the Mobil Pegasus trade mark was born. Another famous early trade mark was the gothic “Gargoyle” perhaps deriving from “garage oil”. In 1955 the company was renamed Socony Mobil Oil Company and in 1966 it was shortened to the Mobil Oil Company. By 1999 Mobil had merged with the Exxon Corporation and the company became ExxonMobil.
Products in the UK were mainly lubrication oils with Mobiloil becoming a major brand by the 1930’s but it was not until the early 1950’s when government “Pooled Petrol” deregulation occurred that Mobil opened its first Petrol stations. The Vacuum Oil Company began its Australian operations at the end of the 19th century and in 1916 it commenced petrol retailing with a brand called “Plume”. Pegasus became a familiar logo in 1939 and by 1954 a new petrol brand named “Mobilgas” had replaced the Plume brand.
Pre war enamel signs for the Vacuum Oil Company are very attractive usually incorporating a tin of motor oil in the design on a red background. Other signs were in white and incorporated the “Gargoyle” trade mark. Early motor oil tins were coloured white and produced in a variety of shapes with the grade of oil marked on them “A”, “B”, “C”, “CW”, “D” etc for varying types of engine. Later tins incorporated the “Gargoyle” and “Mobiloil” trade marks as part of the brand.
[text with thanks to http://vintagegarage.co.uk/histories/aahtmhistories/aahistory_s_z.htm]
The ‘EMPIRE RED NO SKID AUTO PED TIRE‘
The Empire Rubber & Tire Company was still building its empire in 1916. The Autoped was such a new and innovative design that companies were keen to be associated with it. As you can see here, Empire provided tyres that were exclusively made for the Autoped.
Though perished, amazingly, 92 years later, both original tyres are still on the scooter! The tyre model is an ‘Empire Red No Skid.’
Red rubber was an Empire feature, as can be seen in the following 1916 newspaper article.
Above is a picture of me posing on the Autoped I owned in the 1980s, and sold in 1992.
I searched for another Autoped for a long time before finding this one.
[Picture of U.S. mailmen on Autopeds thanks to http://www.shorpy.com/node/4974]