Monday, April 27, 2015

The Wright Cycle Company

The Fourth of Five Buildings Occupied by the Wright Cycle Company
Photo courtesy of Touring Ohio
Without a doubt, the most famous bicycle mechanics of all time are Orville and Wilbur Wright. Most people know they had a bicycle company before building airplanes, but think they must have sold highwheelers. They sold what were called "safety bicycles" at the time, but are the basic design of today's bicycles. Safety bicycles became popular in the late 1880s, which led to the bike boom of the 1890s. They prevented the dangerous headers that could occur with the highwheelers, where a sudden stop could send the rider over the handlebars.

The Wright brothers formed the Wright Cycle Exchange, located in Dayton, in 1892. They picked a good time and location to open their store. The League of American Wheelmen held their 1892 convention in Dayton. Thousand of cyclists attended and toured the city of Dayton. One of the most popular attractions was the Central National Soldiers Home. Many cyclists would have passed right by the Wright brothers shop on their ride to this landmark.

The Wrights operated their bike store at five different locations in Dayton. They eventually changed the name of the business to Wright Cycle Company. They sold bicycles from a variety of manufacturers, priced between forty and one hundred dollars. They also sold bike parts and accessories, and rented bikes. In 1896 they began selling their own bikes, a model called the Van Cleve and a cheaper bike called the St. Clair.

For a while the bicycle business was financially successful for the Wright brothers. Their best year was 1897 when they made $3,000. A good wage at that time was $500 per year. The Wrights were able to save $5,000 to fund some of their early aviation work. After 1897 large manufacturers began producing bicycles and prices dropped to as low as ten dollars. In four years, the Wright brothers were forced to reduce the price of the Van Cleve fifty percent, and they stopped making the St. Clair. They soon turned to aviation where they had considerable success, making their first flight in 1903. They did not sell any bicycles after 1904, but it was several more years before they sold the last of their bicycle parts.

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