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Between 1878, when Pope made his first high bicycle, and the turn of the century, the bicycle evolved in a quite remarkable way …bringing in its wake a whole host of technological innovations that paved the way for the automobile era. Indeed, excepting the internal combustion engine, almost every technological breakthrough required for the car had previously been either adapted to, or specifically developed for bicycles. Moreover, the first autos were a logical evolution of the bicycle; Ford’s first car which was launched in 1896 and significantly named the Quadricycle, included many bicycle parts. Included amongst these innovations were the pneumatic tyre, hollow metal rims, tangent spoked wheels, the axle differential, gears, shaft and chain drive, brakes, wheel bearings, spring suspension and lighting. Equally important were innovations made to the production process, rather than to the product; advances in metallurgy included cold drawn steel, case hardening, swaging, annealing, electric welding, die making, and stamping and pressing.

HOUNSHELL, 1984, identifies two innovation cultures within the bicycle industry, a New England tradition growing out of the manufacture of arms, sewing machines and similar small manufactured items (he labels this the `Yankee armory tradition’), and the western bicycle manufacturers whose roots lay mainly in building big machines such as carriages and wagons, and agricultural implements, but also wooden toys. In the final analysis, the western tradition, which developed stamping and pressing methods, was to be more successful, and in 1896 – at the peak of the bicycle craze – Pope’s production was actually surpassed briefly by the Western Wheel Company of Chicago. Soon after, Pope also adopted stamping and pressing methods.

This stream of innovations had several effects. First, in order to gain competitive advantage, the innovations were protected by patents which were sometimes bought and sold for high prices and became major assets of some bicycle companies. Second, leading firms invested heavily in inventive activities (and some in industrial espionage) to keep abreast of their competitors. And third, the rapid evolution of bicycle technology made older bicycles obsolete in short order.

An insight into the importance Pope attached to patents is provided by the micro-geography of the new general office building his company occupied at Hartford in December 1894. The Patent and Law Department was located immediately adjacent to Pope’s own office and that of the vice-president on the third floor. From the moment of his entry into the bicycle industry, Pope had understood the importance of owning patents, and enforcing them to generate revenue directly, through licences, or indirectly by maintaining bicycle prices higher than would be the case in a fully competitive market. Pope’s first action, having decided to manufacture bicycles, was to buy up all the old velocipede patents still available and particularly Pierre Lallement’s crank patent. Having gained control of this key patent, Pope lowered the licence fee from $25 per bicycle manufactured or imported to $10; he wanted to popularize the bicycle, not price it beyond the reach of most young men.

Throughout the period, until his interests shifted to automobiles, Pope continued to apply for bicycle patents, and to purchase key patents that were not the product of his own company’s invention. Some, including the Mannesmann patent on seamless steel tubes, were process patents, whereas others, such as the Columbia adjustable bearing and the chainless (shaft drive) bicycle were product innovations. When the various bicycle manufacturers merged into the combine known as the American Bicycle Company, collectively they held about 1,400 patents, with the Pope Manufacturing Company accounting for the largest share of these.

Not only did Pope assiduously guard his interests through patent protection, he kept a sharp eye out for the activities of his competitors as, in their turn, did they. Indeed, one of his first acts, having decided in 1878 to enter the bicycle industry, was to make a trip to Europe `to study the bicycling situation.’ Accompanied by his technical advisors, he visited the factories of leading British and European bicycle and bicycle component manufacturers to observe their techniques. Apparently, having been refused entry at one factory, ‘he and his cohorts dressed as workmen and gained access to the plant in question.’ It is clear that Pope’s early bicycles and production methods involved a high degree of imitation.

The Pope Manufacturing Company also took the job of invention and innovation seriously, and by this method moved from the early imitation stage to become an innovator in the industry. The Columbia adjustable bearing, which he patented in 1880, was important since it freed him from dependency on the Bown bearing imported from Britain. Through much of this period, Pope employed Mr C. E. Hawley, a consulting engineer, who ‘occupies his whole time on technological improvements for the bicycle, and the machinery of production.’ Mr Hawley travelled extensively, in Britain, Europe and the US keeping an eye out for new developments in the industry.

– Popeism and Fordism: Examining the Roots of Mass-Production, by Glenn Norcliffe, pages 273-274


Patent litigation between the major American cycle manufacturers took almost as much of their time, money and effort as building bicycles.

In America, the patent term was seventeen years. A major frame design innovation, subject to patent, was the Truss Bridge Frame.

The activities of Colonel Albert Pope, the leading American cycle maker of the time, are well documented because he became the owner of the most cycle patents in the world.

Colonel Pope’s innovations in factory mass-production and lobbying for road-building in the 1890s also helped launch the automobile industry at the turn of the century. Ironically, Colonel Pope himself backed the ‘losing side’ in the new automobile industry, ie electric (battery powered) cars rather than petrol-driven cars. (Bear in mind that when cars were first introduced there were no petrol stations!)

The Truss Bridge bicycle frame was invented and patented in 1901 by Frederic I Johnson for the Iver Johnson Cycle Co.

Iver Johnson’s truss bridge frame was patented in December 1901. Considering the 17 year patent term, the introduction of the truss bridge frame by Columbia in their 1917 catalogue presumably related to the expiry of Iver Johnson’s patent.

The ‘arch bar’ Columbia prototype shown at the top of this page was not put into production. The assumption is that Pope built it as a prototype to use for exhibitions, as a way around patent infringement on the Truss Bridge Frame.

Patent number: D35391
Filing date: Oct 28, 1901
Issue date: Dec 3, 1901
The Truss Bridge patent was awarded to Frederic Iver Johnson on 3rd December, 1901. According to the patent application (below), Frederic Johnson is declared as its inventor.



Iver Johnson changed their truss bridge frame design slightly in 1915. You can see in the photo below that the fitment between the truss and top bar was elongated. But the 1917 Columbia Archbar (above) has the older style of Iver Johnson Truss Bridge fitment. I assume that the patent lapsed on the original Iver Johnson design, but not on the revised Iver Johnson design.

oldbike museum


 The above Red Wing Truss Bridge model was made by Columbia’s Westfield Mfg Co. If you compare the photo of the bicycle with the ‘Pope Archbar’ illustration below it, from the 1918 Columbia catalogue, you’ll see that it’s identical apart from the badge.

Iver Johnson was the patent holder for the truss bridge frame design. Although you’ll see my prototype 1904 Columbia Archbar at the top of the page, that did not appear in any Columbia catalogues until 1917, presumably because that was when Iver Johnson’s patent lapsed.

1918 Pope Arch Bar


The Archbar model was obviously important to Columbia. It was heavily promoted after WW1: as you can see in the 1919 catalogue cover photo below, a Columbia Archbar was even put into a wartime setting to help its postwar sales, even though it was not made as a military model.




Albert Augustus Pope was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1843 to parents of impeccable New England settler ancestry. However, his father, a merchant and real estate operator, suffered financial reverses in the 1850’s and ‘lost his comfortable competency,’ an event which seems to have left a lasting impression on theyoung man who might otherwise have aspired to attend an ivy league university before entering his father’s business; instead, at 16 years of age he was forced to start work. Perhaps anxious to erase the memory of his father’s failure, Pope spent most of his life amassing a large fortune as one of America’s first venture capitalists; few anticipated that he, too, would suffer a setback in his later years, although he still had a sizable fortune at the time of his death.

It was probably through family connections that he was able to enlist in 1862 as a second lieutenant in the Thirty-Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regi- ment at the age of 19. One could say that he had a ‘good civil war’ since he was brevetted lieutenant- colonel by the end of the war in 1865. He used the title `Colonel’ thereafter, and cultivated connections with his regiment and the senior officer class for business and personal reasons.

The next 12 years were spent building up a successful small business making slipper decorations and shoe-endings. In 1876 he saw a high bicycle (now popularly called a penny farthing) at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and decided to import eight of them from England. Largely imitating one of the imported models – the Duplex Excelsior – he set about designing his own improved bicycle.

Pope consulted a patent lawyer, Charles E. Pratt, taking out patents on his design and trade name (Columbia Bicycles) in the fall of 1877. On the advice of this lawyer, he sub-con- tracted the manufacture of his first order to the Weed Sewing Machine Company of Hartford, Connecticut. This firm reluctantly accepted the order, a reluctance that soon turned to regret as they had to solve numerous technical problems in making the first batch of 50 bicycles. Priced at $95, compared to $112 ́50 for imported English bicycles, they sold sufficiently well that Pope returned the next year to Weed with a larger order. Weed continued to manufacture high bicycles for Pope through the 1880s, as he steadily built up the name of Columbia bicycles.

He also pursued in the courts competitors who infringed his patents. In particular, in 1884 Pope began a dispute over patents with the Overman Wheel Company, manufacturer of the Victor bicycle, leading in 1886 to an injunction by Pope prohibiting Overman from selling bicycles. Overman appealed to the courts and won but there were further acrimonious exchanges between Pope and Overman during the 1890s over disputed advertising claims. These anecdotes indicate that Pope was very conscious of the protection these patents afforded his company, and of the importance of advertising and the image of his company.

Pope launched his first hard tyre safety bicycle, the Veloce, in 1888, and within two years production of the high bicycle had ceased. There followed, in successive years, a series of new safety bicycle models and innovations, including the chainless (shaft drive) bicycle of 1898. Bicycle tyres also changed rapidly: by 1891, cushion tyres were in fashion, giving a somewhat more comfortable ride than the solid tyre. By 1894 Dunlop’s pneumatic tyre had eclipsed all other forms of tyre. Well before this date, Pope had purchased an interest in the Weed Sewing Machine Company, and then bought it outright, adding to it a series of related activities to create in Hartford, by 1894, an integrated industrial complex. He was thus well poised to benefit from the bicycle craze of 1895-97.

Throughout this period, Pope had been very active in three public spheres that lay outside his direct corporate interest, but which nevertheless promoted bicycling. In 1880 he provided a security of $60,000 to cover the start-up costs of the Wheelman magazine, which was later merged with Outing to include a number of other outdoor pursuits. Both magazines achieved a wide circulation. Pope also argued that bicycling should be allowed in public parks, most notably Central Park, New York. An ordnance of 1880 which had specifically banned bicycling and tricycling from Central Park was challenged via a contrived infraction in 1881. There followed a series of appeals to the New York Supreme Court which were at first unsuccessful but which, by an 1887 Act of New York State, did eventually succeed; bicycles were declared carriages, and therefore subject to the same rights and restrictions (including access to Central Park). Pope contributed `thousands of dollars’ to the legal costs resulting from this litigation. Pope also invested a huge amount of energy in promoting road improvement. He lectured across the United States on the commercial advantages of improved roads, invariably receiving favourable press coverage which he assiduously collected in his clipping files. All this was free publicity for his bicycles, and at the same time helped redefine public spaces as ‘on-limits’ for bicyclists.

The final phase of Albert Pope’s business career began in 1895 with the creation of a motor-carriage department at the Hartford bicycle factory, which evolved into the Columbia Electric Vehicle Company in 1896. Pope experimented with gasoline, steam and electric carriages, eventually deciding to concentrate on the electric (battery driven) vehicle. Pope controlled vehicle factories producing gasoline cars at Toledo, and at Hartford, and electric cars at Indianapolis. With other automobile manufacturers, he formed the Automobile Trust, which obtained the Selden patent on the internal combustion engine. However, a former bicycle mechanic and small-time automobile manufacturer named Henry Ford infringed this patent, and was sued successfully in the first instance by the Trust. But Ford appealed and eventually, in 1907, obtained a ruling in his favour.

In the same year the Pope Manufacturing Company and the Electric Vehicle Company reorganized, both being severely overcapitalized (they represented the larger part of their nominal assets in patents). Pope was still restructuring these companies when he died at his summer residence at Cohasset, Massachusetts in 1909, aged 66.

Colonel Pope history – Popeism and Fordism: Examining the Roots of Mass-Production, by Glenn Norcliffe –