Columbia Bicycle

This vintage bicycle drawing appeared in an advertisement for the Columbia bicycle. Bicycles with the large wheel in front and a smaller wheel at the back were called penny-farthings or high wheel bicycles.

The advertisement proclaimed that they were easy to ride, and when mastered one could beat the best horse in a day’s run over an ordinary road. There might actually be some truth to that claim. That large front wheel made the bicycles fast and able to ride over the rough cobblestone and dirt roadways, that were common at that time, easier than previous bicycle designs.

Look closely and you’ll see something interesting about this bicycle. There’s no chain or gears. The pedals were attached directly to the wheel functioning like a crank.

Unfortunately, these bicycles were also quite hazardous. As you could imagine, hitting a large pot-hole or braking too quickly could easily send the rider over that large front wheel. The worst part was that it launched the rider from the seat and they would often hit the ground head-first.

This advertising image dates back to 1878, the first year the Columbia bicycle was manufactured outside of Boston. Albert Augustus Pope manufactured bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles from 1877 but ceased manufacturing automobiles in 1915 and motorcycles in 1918. Pope was a clever fellow. After introducing the Columbia High Wheeler bicycle in 1878, he tried to buy as many other bicycle patents he could get his hands on. He made his fortune by essentially restricting what other American bicycle manufacturers could make and charging them royalties.

columbia bicycle

This image is copyright free and in the public domain anywhere that extends copyrights 70 years after death or at least 120 years after publication when the original illustrator is unknown.