1898 Union Supply Co ‘Union Jack’
The British bicycle industry led the world in the 19th century and, even after American companies such as Colonel Pope’s Columbia brand subsequently dominated American cycle sales, British cycles still had a good name. So it’s no wonder that when the Union Supply Co needed a snappy name for their own brand of bicycle, they chose the very British name of ‘Union Jack’ and painted their bikes red and blue, to be fitted with white tyres to complete the British flag’s colour scheme.
Unfortunately, the number of so-called ‘restorers’ in the vintage bicycle hobby in the USA outnumbers ‘preservers’ and most bicycles have, by now, been stripped of their historic original paint, to be over-painted and chromed in the mistaken belief that this improves their appearance. So it is amazing that this ‘Union Jack’ roadster retains its original red and blue paintwork, as well as its ‘Union Supply Co’ transfer (decal) on the down tube. It is also fitted with an equally rare matching ‘Union Supply Co’ badged saddle.
The ‘Union Supply Co’ was in existence for only a short time before merging with their fellow Toledo company the ‘American Bicycle Co’ and moving on from the cycle trade to manufacture components for the new automobile industry. This is one of very few examples of the company’s bicycles still in existence.
UNION MFG Co
Union Manufacturing owned one of the many factories in Toledo turning out metal items for wholesale distribution to the rest of the USA. Like most metalwork companies in the 1890s, attracted by the good profits in the cycle trade, they added bicycles to their range of products, around 1895.
The American Bicycle Co, also of Toledo, was the company formed by Colonel Pope to merge the country’s entire cycle industry, in 1900, in response to the slump of the late 1890s that followed cycle manufacturing’s boom years. As a result, Union Mfg Co was absorbed into that company after only a few years of cycle production, and they subsequently turned to the manufacture of components for the new automobile industry.
FROM BICYCLES to TOLEDO STEAMERS to POPE-TOLEDO AUTOMOBILES
Before the petrol (gasoline) engine prevailed to power the new four-wheeled ‘horseless carriages’ nobody knew whether steam, electricity or petrol would be the successful power-source for the new industry. Bear in mind that at the turn of the century there were no ‘gas stations’ to fill up car’s engines, so each of the three alternatives was equally inconvenient.
George Selden of Rochester New York filed a patent for a petrol-driven engine in 1879. By clever delaying tactics, and despite never building an actual production model, he managed to continually extend his patent, and this affected the production of similar petrol engines. Eventually Henry Ford managed to solve the problem by proving in court that his new Ford cars used a petrol engine patented by German designer Nicolaus Otto in 1877. After this, the petrol engine became the dominant power source, making electric and steam-driven cars obsolete.
In the formative years of both the cycle and automobile industries, Toledo was a major production centre. Toledo’s cycle manufacturing industry paved the way for the factories that produced the world’s first automobiles, powered by either electricity or steam. Toledo companies specialized in ‘steamers’ the first of which were made by the Automobile Department of the American Bicycle Co, using the enormous Lozier factory in Toledo.
America, and the Midwest in particular, was a dramatically different place in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. There were very few paved roads connecting major cities. Most of America was rural, and the horse was central to transportation. Nearly every town of significance had its own carriage manufacturer. The same was true for Toledo. Because of the rural nature of most America, and because there were no major highways connecting the many cities, most folks lived within or near the city centres. These crowded city centers could not support the number of horses required for everyday transportation needs. There was a logistics nightmare that required the feeding and watering and removing of waste from that many horses. There were great health issues caused by the horses as well. The insects that the horses attracted aided in the spread of disease. A ‘horse drawn’ society could not survive into the 20th century, and an alternative means of transportation was desperately needed.
In the 1890s, Toledo became home to the largest producers of bicycles in America, including Gendron, the American Bicycle Company, the Kirk Manufacturing Company, Lozier and Yost, The Dauntless Bicycle Co, the Union Manufacturing Co, the Colton Cycle Company and many others, all producing bicycles in Toledo during the 1890s and into the 1900s. This huge manufacturing business required a significant amount of skilled labour, which attracted a large number of immigrants to Toledo. Because of this industry, jobs were plentiful and life was good.
Although the bicycle solved many of the problems associated with the horse within American cities, it did not help transportation issues outside cities. An alternative means of transportation was necessary. Out of this need came the automobile industry.
Because of its bicycle production facilities, Toledo was in a unique position during the early years of the automotive industry, with most of the bicycle manufacturing plants taking on new roles in the automotive industry. Some of these Toledo manufacturers began production of their own automobiles, and others converted all or part of their factories to making components for cars.
In 1899, George Burwell, of Lozier, designed a three-wheel petrol engined car and, in the following year, patented his engine cylinder lubricator. The American Bicycle Co was the country’s largest cycle manufacturing conglomerate and, after re-tooling their factory in Toledo, they became one of the country’s first automobile manufacturers, building a steam truck in 1900. The early steam cars were quite dangerous; many were purchased by country doctors who spent a lot of time visiting local farms. One such doctor appears to have confused some of the levers while starting his steamer:
‘Thus given life and liberty the carriage gave a lunge, and throwing my frightened friend out on his head, made for the nearest house, which it bombarded with such a crash that the inmates thought the tenants of Dante’s Inferno were let loose. The concussion threw back the reversing lever and away the vehicle went, like a pyrotechnic serpent, in the opposite direction, and fetching up against a portico made kindling wood of the greater part of it. Seemingly satisfied with its antics, it rebounded into the road, where it came to an unexpected standstill. It seems the last concussion had fortunately thrown the reversing lever to dead centre; hence the cessation of hostilities. We finally got in and returned home.’
By September of 1901, two separate models of Toledo steamers were entered in the first long distance endurance road rally in U.S. history, from New York to Buffalo. Although the race was cancelled en route, due to the news that Pres. McKinley had been assassinated, a 6.5 hp Toledo, driven by H. Curtis and Grant Rollings, finished the race and earned a third-class certificate after averaging a whopping 4.21 mph. Pleased by Toledo’s prospects, a few months later, ABC announced that it was moving the headquarters of its automobile division from New York to Toledo and expanding its factory by a third.
ABC debuted its new line of Toledo steamers at the Madison Square Garden Auto Show in New York. Not only did it buy the largest space of any exhibitor at the show, but it conducted a number of publicity stunts. The company drove one of its carriages from Toledo to New York to attend its auto show. The trip took two weeks. Each day the drivers composed a tale of their adventures and progress and telegraphed it to New York where they were posted by ABC’s exhibit. To show off the rugged construction of its engine, it was planned that a working model was to be installed in the show, revved up to a screaming 2200 rpm’s and then the reverse gear would be suddenly engaged. The advertising paid off as the trade journals gave the new cars much praise, especially those tortured engines that the leading automobile journal said were ‘put up in a very substantial and workmanlike manner.’
In 1902, the American Bicycle Company divested itself of its last bicycle holdings and changed its name to the International Motor Car Company. That same year, the Toledo plant began building its first internal combustion touring car, though it also continued to produce a line of steamers. However, by the following year, the company abandoned the steamer and began to build gas cars exclusively.
The gasoline engine, producing far more horsepower per pound of powerplant and enjoying a much larger range, also allowed for a bigger and heavier chassis. In 1903, the newly renamed ́Pope-Toledo ́ took on its classic look – a sturdy, ruggedly built, open roadster with high overstuffed seats. It was a luxury car popular among the country club set with a base price of nearly $3,000, several times the yearly income of most Americans. When Secretary of State Elihu Root needed automobiles to carry Russian and Japanese diplomats around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during the important negotiations ending the Russo-Japanese War, he ordered a dozen Pope-Toledos.
The new, heavier, more powerful Pope-Toledo also began to distinguish itself in the world of racing. In 1903, the new Pope-Toledo won fifteen races and placed in twenty-nine others. The following year Pope-Toledo’s made it to the winner’s circle in thirty-three out of the forty races they were driven in. It also became the first gasoline auto to climb Mt. Washington, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi.
The success of the Pope-Toledo soon encouraged imitation and a pair of rival Toledo bicycle company’s combined to give the Pope corporation a little competition. The Snell Fittings Company, probably the largest maker of bicycle parts in the U.S. and the Kirk Manufacturing Company, debuted their ́Yale ́ automobile in in 1903. The Yale was produced for fewer than two years before the project was abandoned.
When the 1907 recession shut down Pope’s car companies, John North Willys bought the huge Toledo plant for Overland Motor Company. This remained the main Willys factory throughout Jeep production, WW2 and the postwar boom years.
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