1897 THE AMERICA Tall Truss Frame

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Throughout the 1890s, all sorts of weird and wonderful bicycle frame designs were patented. Not all were put into production, but inventors were keen to register their ideas in case their designs were picked up by one of the large manufacturers. There were various ideas in both America and Great Britain for split seat tubes, also known as truss frames. A bicycle using the patent above is unknown today. But Hill Cycle Co used a similar patented design for their Fowler and America Truss Frame bicycles.

The best known bicycle using a ‘truss’ is Iver Johnson’s top tube truss design, patented in 1901 and described as a Truss Bridge. It was Iver Johnson’s flagship model, was well-promoted – ‘Trust the Truss’ – and still manufactured in the 1920s. World champion Major Taylor rode one for many years, so its distinctive design became familiar  around the world too; Labor subsequently made a similar frame in France. However, this Truss Seat Tube design is not well-known and there are few survivors today.

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co

 

1897 THE AMERICA Truss Frame

America Cycle Mfg Co, Chicago

28″ Tall Frame

28″ Wheels

The Wheeler Reform Saddle 

(Now sold)

The machine is a rare survivor, in unrestored original condition, apart from the pedals which are newer. The tyres are perished and the wooden rims have seen better days. I can’t see much point in buying repro tubeless tyres for it, as the bike, with a 28″ frame, is too tall for me to ride. I installed a period American bell, as well as a frame bag and 1899 sidepath bicycle license.

I sold this machine some years ago and have now bought it back. The saddle top has deteriorated. The America has now been stripped, cleaned and serviced.

There are two differences I’ve observed from Fowler Truss Frame bicycles: the front fork, and the hubs which, on The America, uniquely have two oilers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co

AMERICA CYCLE MFG CO

319 Michigan Ave. Chicago

America_Cycle_Co_Truss xx

International Mfg Co and Fowler shared the same parent company, Hill Mfg Co of Chicago.


The 1896 advert above shows International Mfg Co as the manufacturer. However, I found an advert in the May 1896 issue of Munsey’s magazine (below) which states that AMERICA CYCLE MFG CO is the successor of International Mfg Co and that they owned the patent. I assume that in the first four months of 1896 the company changed hands.

 

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOWLER CYCLE MFG Co

Fowler Cycle Works,

50-54 State St, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago became a magnet for many smaller makers in the trade as well – including Featherstone, Spalding, Hill and Moffat – along with countless suppliers and retailers. Many of these concerns quickly assembled in and around Chicago’s central business district, the Loop, and particularly on a stretch of Wabash Avenue that became known as Bicycle Row. This was one of Schwinn’s first stops when he got off the train in Chicago. His first opportunity came a few blocks away from Bicycle Row with the Hill Cycle Manufacturing Co, which hired him. …Schwinn could run a  factory, and he soon rose to superintendent of the Hill plant, maker of the well-respected Fowler line. Hill was an ambitious firm at this time and already successful in the then uncommon marketing approach of building stock bicycles in several different sizes. For two years at Hill, Schwinn applied his mechanical and metallurgical knowledge in quest of the industry’s holy grail of the 1890s: lighter and faster machines.

– Schwinn Bicycles by Jay Pridmore, Jim Hurd

The Fowler Truss Tube frame first appeared in 1893. The company name changed several times. A youthful Ignaz Schwinn was employed by Hill and Fowler prior to striking out on his own to found Arnold Schwinn & Co.

Hill Cycle Mfg Co were established by 1893: my research shows an entry for this company in This Sporting Life magazine at an exhibition in 1893.* They shared a stand with the Bearings Publishing Co. At the exhibition, Colonel McClure gave a talk on road improvement; McClure was backed by Pope to campaign for this issue which, of course, paved the way for increased bicycle sales …and, in due course, helped automobile sales when they came onto the scene ten years later.

Hill Cycle Mfg Co built Fowler bicycles. It’s likely that the Fowler Cycle Mfg Co was established as a separate concern as a result. There was also a connection with International Mfg Co which made similar bicycles, and was set up by Ignaz Schwinn who ran the Fowler factory. It was common practice at this time for local companies to work together when marketing their products nationally. But bicycle manufacturers also often set up separate companies for their different model names. I think it’s more likely in this instance that the Fowler and International Mfg companies were both offshoots of Hill Cycle Mfg Co.

Maybe – with the ‘international’ company name and model name ‘America’ – the International Mfg Co was established with export in mind?

The 1898 advert for The AMERICA, below, for example, is from New Zealand.

 

 

The 1893 picture below is from racer A. Kennedy, thanking Ignaz Schwinn for building him that bicycle. It looks very similar to the bicycle featured on this page. I assume that running the Hill factory (making the Fowler) and also setting up the factory for International Mfg Co gave Schwinn the experience he needed for his subsequent venture, setting up his own company in partnership with investor Adolph Arnold.


The extract below, from the 1893 Fowler catalogue, states ‘patent applied for’ next to the Truss Frame title, so that would appear to confirm when the model started.

Fowler Cycle Mfg Co grew into one of Chicago’s largest bicycle businesses, but as the bicycle industry expanded, every manufacturer of expensive machines faced increased competition from cheap bicycles, and Fowler was wound up in 1897.

 

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co

LEONARD BABY BLISS

The America bicycle was advertised as being a lightweight bicycle with a strengthened frame, and the company contracted America’s heaviest man, Leonard ‘Baby’ Bliss, to ride its bicycles for publicity events to prove the strength of the truss seat tube design.

 

1898 America Cycle Mfg Co