Today in Transportation History – 1896: Before Flying, The Wright Bros. Were Up to Something Else

Two enterprising brothers named Orville and Wilbur Wright began selling an innovative type of bicycle they had developed at their shop at 22 South Williams Street in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers named their new bicycle the “Van Cleve.” The Van Cleves, who were ancestors of the Wright family, had been among the first white settlers to make the Dayton area their home in the late 18th century. Since 1896 marked the centennial of the founding of Dayton, the Wright brothers called their bicycle the Van Cleve to capitalize on the greater-than-average amount of attention being paid to their ancestors’ historical significance.

A week before officially unveiling their latest bicycle and opening the order books for people to purchase it, the Wright brothers strongly played up the device in a local ad. Their bicycle, the announcement asserted, “will contain nothing but high-grade material.” The Van Cleve, which was available for the comparatively high price of $65.00, also featured such then-unique features as coaster brakes and a dust-proof wheel hub.

The Van Cleve proved to be very much in demand, something highlighted in a Wright Cycle Company catalog that came out four years after the bicycle was introduced. A section of the catalog singled out the customers who bought and promoted the bicycle. “Without their assistance in spreading the fame and praise of the Van Cleve, we could not have hoped to have pressed it to its present high position in popular estimation,” stated the catalog. “Through their testimonies, the name Van Cleve has become the synonym of excellence in bicycle construction.”

Orville Wright (right) and Edwin H. Sines working in the Wright brothers bicycle shop.

Orville and Wilbur Wright had launched their bicycle business in 1892. The brothers’ major involvement in that mode of transportation financed their pioneering efforts in aviation. In addition, the mechanical skills that both brothers refined and improved upon through their bicycle work ultimately enabled them to make the first powered, controlled and sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine in 1903.

For more information on the Wright brothers and their production of the Van Cleve and other bicycles, please check out http://www.wright-brothers.org/Information_Desk/Just_the_Facts/Bicycles/Wright_Bicycles.htm.

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