PATENT WARS: CROSS FRAMES
RALEIGH, REFEREE, CENTAUR, ELSWICK, GIRPLEX…
No, not the type that was heralded by Hillman, Herbert & Cooper’s Premier in 1886, but the more sophisticated version that really began with F. Bowden’s 1894 patent for the lady’s Raleigh. Although Bowden was granted the palent, G.P. Mills took the credit for the design. There was apparently no development until 1898, when the well-known Raleigh cross-frame appeared; it was to last for about 40 years.
Then in 1899 G. L. Morris was granted a patent that covered practically every permutation possible in tube-crossings, and the famous Referee cross-frame appeared on the market. From then on, most if not all makers of cross-frames paid royalties to either Raleigh or Referee.
Chater-Lea used the Bowden patent, the Cycle Components Co used the Morris.
But what about Centaur? I had always assumed they paid royalties to Morris, but recent browsing through the columns of “Cycling” proved otherwise. In a review of the 1908 Stanley Show “Cycling” referred to “G. L. Morris, the designer of the celebrated Centaur cross-frame and the ingenious and popular no. 15 Raleigh tandem”. In the following issue of the paper appeared a letter from the Centaur Cycle Company:
“In your issue of September 16th you refer to Mr. G. L. Morris as the designer of the celebrated Centaur cross-frame, and we must ask you to kindly correct that statement in your next issue. The Centaur cross-frame was designed solely and entirely by Mr. George Gilbert, the Managing Director of the Centaur Co. and at the time he designed this frame he had never heard of or seem any design of Mr. Morris’s. In fact the two men are still strangers to each other. The Centaur cross·frame was not only designed, but also made, and put on the market, before Mr. Morris appeared in the matter at all. His intervention arose in this way. When the Centaur Cycle Co. applied to the Patent Office for registration of their design, which they believed, and still believe, to be entirely new and original, the Registrar stated that a frame had been registered somelime previously by Mr. Morris, which, in his (the Registrar’s) opinion bore a sufficient resemblance to the Centaur Co’s design to justify him in refusing a separate registratton without Mr. Morris’s consent.
Mr. Morris, perhaps not unnaturally, turned the situation to his own advantage, and refused the consent to the registration unless he received a monetary consideration. This being arranged, the Centaur Co were granted a separate registration in their own name of their cross·frame design. We may add that for 1909 the Cenlaur Co will substitute a new pattern frame for their Featherweight model in place of the one with which the name has been assoclated during the past few years. The only criticism of the original de!ign was that, owing to the main tubes being crossed, a somewhat undue degree of vertical rigidity was caused. Several alternatives have been tried, and al last a design of frame has been decided upon which, while giving increased lateral strength, and immense strength for the back of the frame. through which the pedalling strain has to be transmitted, does not increase the vertical rigidity in excess of the ordinary diamond pattern”. Anyone who has ridden both types of Centaur may wonder at the change.
The answer may lie in road conditions at that time. Although Raleigh stuck t0 rigidity, other firms, such as Triumph and James, even fitted a downwards-curved top tube to give flexibility – the 1909 James cross-frame safety was practically a Centaur with a curved tube. It is interesting to remember that when Hetchins introduced their curved seat-stays and chain-stays claims were made of both extra flexibility and extra strength; I can’t remember any cycling paper at that time pointing out the absurdity of the claim, as would certainly have happened had anyone had the affrontery to make it in 1908.
– Written by Derek Roberts; Extract from ” THE BONESHAKER” – THE MAGAZINE OF THE SOUTHERN VETERAN-CVCLE CLUB, Volume 12 Number 107 Spring 1985
The cross frame style of bicycle was the first ‘safety bicycle’ – ie driving the rear wheels by chain, rather than direct front wheel drive as in the Ordinary (penny farthing). The first commercially successful model was introduced in 1886 by Hillman Herbert & Cooper & Co as ‘The Premier.’
Over the following years, the frame style evolved in order to create a more robust design, with extra stays added, eventually becoming a ‘diamond frame.’
But issues of frame strength continued to dominate public concern, and in 1898 Raleigh introduced a new variant of the cross frame. It was immediately copied by other manufacturers. Some were outright copies, resulting in patent litigation. Other companies, such as Referee, Centaur and Elswick built their crossframes with different construction principles to avoid patent infringement.
1889 GUEST & BARROW CROSS FRAME PATENT
A British patent by Guest & Barrow (below), approved in Great Britain in 1889 and in America in 1890, was referred to when some companies registered subsequent cross frame patents.
Guest & Barrow, of 276 Broad St, Birmingham, registered the Ariel trademark in 1893, but the company closed in 1894. Dunlop subsequently took over the Ariel name, forming Ariel Cycle Co in 1896, and Cycle Components Mfg Co acquired Ariel Cycle Co in 1897.
1898 RALEIGH CROSS FRAME
CHATER LEA CROSS FRAME
Made Under License from the Raleigh Cycle Co
1899 GEORGE LEONARD MORRIS, REFEREE CYCLE CO CROSS FRAME PATENT
1st Patent Application 29th March 1899
Referee’s Cross Frame patent was a rival to Raleigh’s. Morris Wilson & Co was founded in 1887, with the name changing to the Referee Cycle Co Ltd around 1891.
Morris’s original crossframe patent was on 29th March 1899, whereas Raleigh’s was a year earlier. As they were different styles, both patents existed independently.
1899 GEORGE LEONARD MORRIS, REFEREE CYCLE CO CROSS FRAME PATENT
2nd Patent Application 27th October 1899
1901 JAMES MOORE CROSS FRAME PATENT
1901 FREDERICK JAMES HORTOP CROSS FRAME PATENT
NEW IMPERIAL GIRPLEX CROSS FRAME
1898 PHILIP RENOUF PATENT FOR TUBE JOINTS
CENTAUR X FRAME FEATHERWEIGHT
COMPONENTS Co Ltd CROSS FRAME
Although Derek Roberts explains that Components Co Ltd used the Morris (Referee) cross frame patent, I found a 1901 US patent application by Charles Sangster for a slightly different cross frame design.
From Chalres Sangster’s obituary in 1935:
His early associations date back to the first dawn of the bicycle as we know it to day, as he was first connected with the New Howe Cycle Co., of Glasgow, and then with the Coventry Machinists Co., the firm that gave rise to the Swift concern, generally regarded as the father company of the bicycle trade. He then went to Components, Ltd., in 1895.
For more than thirty years Mr. Sangster was managing director of Components, Ltd., and, of course, occupied a similar office in the Ariel Company. It will also be remembered that he was chairman of the Swift Company for a considerable period, and also owned or controlled, amongst other companies, the Rover Cycle Co., the Midland Tube & Forging Co., and the Endless Rim Co. He was President of the Motor and Cycle Trades Benevolent Fund in 1921.
One of his two surviving sons (the eldest was killed in the war) is Mr. Jack Sangster, managing director of Ariel Motors (J.S.), Ltd.
ELSWICK CROSS TRUSS
Elswick managed to avoid infringing both Raleigh and Referee patents because of the unique design of their down tubes.
Elswick also made a diamond frame roadster using the same double down tube style as employed on their Cross Truss. It was called the Popular Truss (below)