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 America and Great Britain for split seat tubes, also known as truss frames. A bicycle using the patent illustrated above is unknown today, though open frame designs were used in the late 1880s and early 1890s in Britain by Rudge among others. Hill Mfg Co introduced a similar patented design in the USA 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. Iver Johnson’s flagship model was well-promoted – ‘Trust the Truss’ – and production ran for several decades. World champion Major Taylor rode one, so its distinctive design became familiar around the world too. As a result, Labor and other companies started making similar frames in France.
However, the Truss Seat Tube design (below) used on the Fowler and America bicycles is not well-known. Only a few survive.
1897 America Cycle Mfg Co ‘THE AMERICA’ Truss Frame Tandem
Frame size: 22″ front; 24″ rear
It’s not often you see a truss frame bicyce such as ‘The America’. I found one in America some years ago and my good friend Daniel in Illinois went to a lot of trouble to pick it up and ship it to me. Recently he spotted this rear-steering tandem on US ebay made by the same company, and notified me right away. As a result, I now have a tandem to match. It’s interesting that, whereas the solo bicycle has just one truss tube (the seat tube), the tandem has four! (See below)
I’ve just assembled this tandem from the box, adding a retro wheelset for now, while I decide what to do with it.
THE ‘AMERICA’ TRUSS
The Fowler Truss Tube frame first appeared in 1893; you can see its first appearance in the Hill Mfg Co catalogue above. 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.
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.
1897 FOWLER CATALOGUE EXTRACTS