1878 Unzicker Patent Rowing Tricycle


My invention consist in the attachment, to a common tricycle velocipede, of a double bell-crank, pivoted to the standard top connecting yoke, having the tiller secured to its upright vibrating ends, while its horizontal ends are connected by pitmen with the cranks of the driving wheel axle, so that the velocipede is both propelled and steered by the motion imparted to the tiller only with the hands and arms, and that the lower limbs of the person riding have no work to perform; also, in a seat, shaped like a side or lady’s saddle, which is affixed upon the reach rods, and in a stirrup suspended from one of the reach rods by a strap, so that a girl can ride on this velocipede in the same manner as women ride on horseback.

– Otto Unzicker, patent no 204,636; 4 June 1878

This push ‘n’ pull or rowing motion was designed so that a child could propel a tricycle without using the feet. The logical assumption is that the patent holder could also claim patent rights if a similar wheeled vehicle was subsequently manufactured for adult disabled riders. The ‘velocipede’ tricycle shown in the patent illustration has a different body style to the tricycle featured here, but the method of propulsion would have been covered by the same patent. Otto Unzicker assigned his patent to the Western Toy Co, America’s leading manufacturer of wheeled toys in this era. In 1889, the company became Western Wheel Works, maker of the Crescent range of bicycles, and one of the largest cycle manufacturers in the USA. (They made 25,000 bicycles in 1891 and, in 1895, at the peak of production, 57,000 bicycles).

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1878 Rowing Tricycle (Otto Unzicker Patent)

24″ Front Wheel

22″ Rear Wheels



WIDTH: 19″


Though the front end of this tricycle is covered by Otto Unzicker’s patent, the style of the rest of the machine is different, and I’m not 100% certain how it would have worked. I couldn’t decide on a logical way to add a seat. So my assumption is that a rider might have have stood behind it, placed one foot onto the rear axle to push it off and then, as it was moving, stood on it and worked the handlebar for forward motion. It’s conceivable that it was originally built as a prototype to illustrate the method of propulsion rather than for actual use.


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western toy co advert

OBITUARY: ADOLPH SCHOENINGER – From California came the sad news of the death of Mr. Adolph Schoeninger, one of the most prominent and widely known Chicagoans. Mr. Schoeninger, who was one of the early settlers here, sought cure for his ills in the land of sunshine, but died yesterday morning a victim of complications. He was the personification of kind-heartedness, honesty and righteousness. Death took this fine member of the German race at the age of 68 years.

Adolph Schoeninger was born January 20, in the city of Weil, South Germany. He received his entire education in the city of his birth and also entered business there. Having pronounced liberal opinions, however, he could not tolerate the policies of the Fatherland, and consequently, in company of his younger brother, he emigrated to America in 1854. They went first to Philadelphia. Although he found employment immediately, he was anxious to establish his own business and did so in the year 1857. The venture proved a success from the very start. He was intensely interested 2in the social activities of Philadelphia and soon was well known and highly respected in the business world and in social circles,

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Schoeninger joined the 75th. Company of Pennsylvania’s Volunteer-Regiment, the command of which was entrusted to him. He served the army until 1864, when he returned to Philadelphia, only to find that his business had greatly declined. He thus went to Chicago to work for Albert Pick, dealer in china. However, in 1866, he became the head of a toy manufacturing plant, which develope and grew wonderfully under his able management. Everything went along smoothly until 1871, when both the old and new factories were destroyed in the great conflagration. Schoeninger was penniless once more. The insurance companies in which he had invested were themselves victims of that terrible catastrophy. But this time a European banking house to which his honesty was known, came to his rescue. This firm put funds at his disposal, that he might rebuild his factory. The offer was accepted, the work rushed, and in January 1872, the wheels of the factory were turning again, and nothing empeded his success from that time. Mr. Schoeninger, who was the first president of the Western Wheel Works which later manufactured bicycles exclusively, is responsible for the growth and development of this establishment.

Adolph Shoeninger was a leading builder and supplier of children’s bicycles and tricycles, and owned the patents for the two leading designs of tricycle: the velocipede style with pedals in the front wheel, patented by G.W Marble in 1875; and the tiller and treadle style, patented by Otto Unzicker. Shoeninger’s company, Western Toy Co, sold various ‘Otto’ tricycles, in both adult and child sizes. Otto Unzicker’s 1878 patent for this ‘rowing’ tricycle suggests that the company was keen to monopolise the market.

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The picture above shows a similar tricycle to which a museum had added a modern seat by way of a large centrally mounted spring. Obviously they also couldn’t work out how this strange contraption would have operated. Searching for an aesthetically pleasing idea, I rested a seat from another tricycle of the correct period on the back of this tricycle to see how it would look. It certainly adds to its appearance, though it’s not a solution to the mystery of how it actually worked.




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