The absence of the chain and the great cleanliness of the chainless make it in every way desirable, and the ideal bicycle for ladies’ use. Each year since the introduction of the Bevel Gear Chainless type, it has become more and more popular with lady riders, and the demand is still very rapidly increasing.
– Crescent Sales Brochure, 1901
Western Wheel Works, makers of Crescent bicycles, started life as the Western Toy Co. Owner Adolph Schoeninger was bankrupted when the Chicago Fire destroyed his toy factory in 1871. But he managed to re-open his business and, by 1889, his toy company had become a bicycle company. By the mid-1890s Western Wheel Works was one of America’s largest cycle manufacturers.
‘The factories of this company contain 25,000 square feet of floor space and employ one thousand men. No less than 25,000 safety bicycles were made and sold in 1891. The facilities of the establishment have been doubled. Among the most popular bicycles manufactured here are the Blackhawk, Crescent No. 2, Escort, Crescent No. 1, Juno, Rob Roy No. 3, Rob Roy No. 2, Rob Roy No. 1. Here are also manufactured the Cinch, Combination Junior, Boy’s Junior and Pet. These machines have a market in every part of the world, and owing to their popularity the export trade is constantly increasing. They are everywhere considered among the most reliable and popular. Some of the makes mentioned have been ridden by champions in prize contests throughout the country.’
A ‘bicycle boom’ started in the late 1880s but was followed by a sudden downturn in the USA in 1897 due to over-production and the fact that American bicycles had wooden wheels and tubeless tyres which were expensive to replace. Increased competition among cycle makers resulted in price reductions which caused serious issues for them. Mergers were one solution.
In 1899, Western Wheel Works and Pope (maker of the Columbia) set up a new company ‘The Bevel Gear Wheel Co’ to control the bevel gear patents. Earlier that year several saddle manufacturers had formed a new corporation called the ‘American Saddle Corporation.’ It was against this background that the ‘American Bicycle Co’ was established in 1900 as a conglomerate of nearly all the US cycle makers. This included Western Wheel Works, their Chicago factory being sold to Dr William Scholl to manufacture shoes.
Crescent was a leading brand. As well as promoting the Crescent chainless alongside the Columbia, the ‘American Bicycle Co’ based the design of their Crescent motorcycle on the Crescent female (loop frame) bicycle, adding an extra top tube [Photo below courtesy of Bonhams, who sold the Crescent motorcycle illustrated in 2008 for £19,550 inc premium].
1899 Crescent Ladies’ Bevel-gear Chainless
Wheeler Extra No 20 saddle
At a practical level, the advantage of a chainless bicycle over a conventional chain-driven machine is debatable. But aesthetically they stand their ground. Thanks to the vast investment by Colonel Pope, plus a decade of publicity campaigns, American bevel gear machines of the late 1890s became the world leaders in the chainless market.
This Model 18 has been in Britain for many years and has metal Westwood wheel rims and conventional tyres rather than the unsuccessful wooden rims and tubeless tyres used in America. It was previously owned by a longtime collector. It has recently been fitted with a new Wheeler Extra No 20 saddle made by Paul Watson. You can see these illustrated in the Crescent catalogue. It’s in excellent all round condition and ready to ride.
AMERICAN BICYCLES IN BRITAIN
The ‘American Bicycle Co’ exhibited at the Stanley Show in London in 1900 (report below).
By 1900, ‘Western Wheels Works’ were part of the ‘American Bicycle Co’. Though they were now made in the Columbia factory, Crescents were still advertised separately (below).
WHEELER EXTRA No 20 SADDLE
1901 CRESCENT CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
Crescent info thanks to – http://chicagology.com/goldenage/goldenage091/