1895 Tinkham Passenger Tricycle

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When first they were brought out by the Tinkham Cycle Company, the bicycle, or rather tricycle, ‘carriers’ were not regarded as very practical affairs, with the big box rising behind the back of the rider, but they grew steadily in favor until now there is a regular demand for them by business concerns which have small packages to deliver.

– 28 December, 1895, New York Times

The Tinkham Passenger Tricycle presented here played a very important part in the evolution of commercial tricycles: it was the first goods carrier of its kind in the USA; and it inspired the development of the tricycle rickshaw, which is still in use around the world today.

Before motorised transportation dominated the roads and provided the perfect solution for carrying passengers, cycle makers in Britain and America had already started to adapt tricycles for passenger-carrying duties. But in any country where automobiles (or motorcycles) were produced in large numbers, they soon became obsolete. However, the ‘tricycle rickshaw’ concept was ideal for third world countries, and production was soon established in Asia, where the cycle rickshaw eventually replaced the hand-pulled rickshaw.

The history of hand-pulled rickshaws has been studied in some depth, and there are various theories about who invented a two-wheeled cart that could be pulled by one person. Though dates of 1869 and earlier have been suggested for one-off rickshaws built for missionaries in Japan, they would only have become a practical proposition when metal tricycle wheels were introduced in the 1890s.

Surprisingly, nobody appears to have researched the origins of the tricycle rickshaw. The first practical passenger carrying-tricycles were tandem tricycles (Olympia, Rudge, etc) of the 1880s which carried a non-pedalling passenger immediately in front of the rider, and incorporated a differential in the back axle (invented by James Starley). The tandem bicycle was invented (but not patented) by Dan Albone in 1886, and carried its pedalling passenger at the rear. These two styles of passenger carrying – front or rear – became the dominant styles of pedalled rickshaw.

The first tandem bicycles had steering linked by a rod attached to the handlebars, which made them cumbersome to use. The first ‘modern’ style of tandem, with more discreet linked steering, was introduced in 1895: tandems now became very popular in Britain and the USA. In this golden age of the bicycle, before the automobile hit the road, tandems became known as ‘courting cycles’.

In 1895 the Tinkham Cycle Co produced a goods-carrying tricycle (below, right) whose weight was half that of the British equivalent (below, left). This was a radical innovation for 1895 and Tinkham was a pioneer in marketing this type of commercial vehicle in the USA.

The popularity of the new style of tandem in 1895 appears to have inspired the Tinkham Cycle Co to also provide a tricycle that could carry a passenger. Having recently introduced their tricycle delivery wagon, they commissioned another cycle maker to provide a bespoke fitment for the rear, which provided a seat for a passenger. This passenger-carrying tricycle was the first practical ‘cycle rickshaw’ to be constructed.



1895/96 Tinkham Passenger Tricycle

Slotted Pedal Cranks

Christy Anatomical Saddle

26″ Front Wheel, 24″ Rear Wheels


Innovation and invention in the cycle industry in the 1890s forced companies to constantly update their designs. Just two years after Tinkham introduced goods carrier tricycles, the ‘bicycle boom’ ended in America and a few years later automobiles started to come into use. Tinkham experimented with motorised tricycles, as they realised that was the way forward, but full-scale production of a powered goods tricycle would require a much stronger chassis than this lightweight model – a completely new tricycle was necessary. Another problem was that brakes had not yet been developed that were efficient at the increased speeds. Tinkham’s prototype motorised carrier was not much faster than the pedalled variety. Pedal-operated Tinkham goods tricycles were still a cheap option for local businesses to make light deliveries, and a passenger tricycle such as this could be used in an area without hills. But, by the early years of the new century, demand for goods tricycles diminished and Tinkham focussed more on selling conventional tricycles for women and older men, which ‘afford all the pleasure and exercise of bicycling without the nervous strain and danger.’

At the turn of the century, various firms in England and France supplied passenger trailers with large wicker seats to fit behind a bicycle and, within a few years, these were also being used by ‘motor-bicycles’ (the first motorcycles). However, at speed behind a motorcycle, the rear passenger got splashed with mud; so sidecars were developed for motorcycles so that the passenger could ride alongside the driver. This configuration became the standard option and passenger trailers became obsolete. Early motor-tricycles (c1899) had passenger seats in front of the driver.

This Tinkham is a remarkable survivor, and is in full working order. The slotted pedal cranks (with pedals fastened by a nut, illustrated below) suggest its age as 1895: by 1896 the cycle industry worldwide had adopted threaded pedal cranks. The chain adjustment with pivoting bottom bracket (below), was a style used on much older bicycles; the chain was prone to slipping with this design unless the pivot nuts were tightened regularly. By 1897, Tinkham marketed tricycles with conventional bottom brackets.









Reading, Pa, USA


The wooden passenger unit on the Tinkham tricycle was constructed by the Relay Mfg Co, who were also cycle makers. One of their 1895 adverts is illustrated below. Inventor J Geo Ziegler had a stake in both the Relay and Tinkham companies.relay-mfg-co-1895


The wood is in excellent condition, suggesting that this passenger tricycle saw little public service; perhaps it was commissioned for private use, for example, by a rich lady who had her chauffeur drive her around town? Though it is sturdy, it has quite a lightweight construction, suggesting it would be better for use on city streets rather than over the unmade roads which were prevalent outside the city limits in this era.





The 1900 Tinkham goods carrier illustrated above has a conventional bottom bracket, in the frame. You can compare the earlier pivoting  version on the tandem tricycle illustrated below.


















25 APRIL, 1901: YOUTH’S COMPANION MAGAZINEtinkham-tricycles-25-april-1901

By the turn of the century, the introduction of cars and motorcycles obviously threatened Tinkham’s business, and their adverts now had to focus on the safety of a tricycle in comparison to a bicycle.















1. The first rickshaws were pulled by hand. In the 1880s, iron rickshaws were introduced to Shimla, the summer capital for the British Raj in India, but they were so heavy four men were required to pull them.

Sedan chairs had been the main form of transportation for the upper classes around the world for over a thousand years. A covered sedan chair was supported by two poles and carried by either two or four men. City records in Britain show that the quantity of licensed sedan chairs were gradually reduced from 1800 onwards, their place being taken by bath chairs and horse-driven hackney carriages. In India the sedan chair was known as a palanquin, and this was still in use in the late Victorian era. Wooden rickshaws became popular around Asia by the 1890s; in India, the palanquin was used by upper classes while the middle classes rode in hand-pulled rickshaws.

Calcutta (now Kolkata) is the only city in India to maintain the tradition of hand-pulled rickshaws; there are an estimated 18,000 rickshaw pullers and 6,000 rickshaws in operation.

There are three primary designs in use for the cycle rickshaw tricycle.

2. The Indian version, also found in Nepal, Tibet, China and Thailand, has the rider in front with the passengers behind. This style evolved from the hand-pulled rickshaw.

3. The configuration of the Indonesian ‘becak’ has the single wheel of the rickshaw at the rear, with the pasengers in front. This design is also used in Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.

4. In some countries, rather than a traditional tricycle design, the layout is that of a bicycle with a passenger seated on a sidecar. This style is used in the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, and in smaller numbers in Sumatra (Indonesia). Malaysia has a mixture of this style and the becak style.















New York Times quote –