Monday, September 25, 2017

Pope, Columbia, and the History of the Bicycling Industry in Massachusetts

While using the book History of Massachusetts Industries: Their Inception, Growth and Success, by Orra Stone, I learned that Massachusetts had one of the largest factories for producing bicycles.  As a matter of fact, Massachusetts was the first place in the US that bicycles were manufactured.

Albert A. Pope, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Union Army, who had first seen a bicycle at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, had decided to promote the bicycle in this country for health and recreational purposes.  In 1877 Pope organized the Pope Manufacturing Company with headquarters at 87 Summer Street, Boston, which later became the Westfield Manufacturing Company located in Westfield, MA.  To Pope, the quality of his product was paramount.  After the Philadelphia Exposition Pope went to Europe to study how bicycles were made. After acquiring the American rights to the patents, Pope approached the Weed Sewing Machine Company about using the empty wings of its Hartford plant to produce 50 test bicycles.

 Because of Pope’s high standards, by 1930 the Westfield Manufacturing Company (producer of the Columbia bicycle) was the largest industry of its kind in the United States.  In a short period of time the price of the bicycle steadily increased.  In 1878, the Standard Columbia (one of their bicycle models) sold for $80 to $90; by 1893 the best Columbia sold for $150.

The US had better machinery than in Europe so we were able to produce better bicycles. Some bicycles were shipped abroad, more and more every year.  Eventually the Europeans made improvements to their machinery and they could manufacture their own bicycles.

Company’s brief timeline:
  • 1878: Colonel Pope issued a trade catalog 
  • 1882: the Expert Columbia was launched-the first bicycle to be ridden around the world
  • 1883-1885: the Columbia racer, the light roadster, and the two track and three track tricycles first appeared.
  • 1886: the Columbia Safety Bicycle appeared.  A Safety bicycle is lower to the ground than the Penny Farthing also known as a high wheeler (bicycle with a big front wheel and small back wheel).  
  • 1887-1890: Pope introduced several models including the Columbia Tandem, the racing and light roadster tricycles, the rear driving safety bicycle, the Columbia light roadster safety, the tandem safety, and the women’s safety, and cushion tires first made their appearance on Columbia products.
  • 1891: the world’s record of a mile in 2 minutes, 15 seconds was made on a pneumatic racing safety Columbia bicycle.
  • 1897: Columbia built a bevel gear chainless bicycle which uses a beveled drive shaft where a chain would be.  
  • 1899: the American Bicycle Company was incorporated by Pope and took over the Pope Manufacturing Company and 47 other manufacturers of bicycles and bicycle parts.
  • 1901-1905: many wonderful advances were made by Columbia management including: the cushion frame, the Columbia hub coaster brake, the Pope coaster brake, the Pope cushion fork. These all deal with cushioning the bicycle by using shock absorbers. According to the Columbia Manufacturing Company, by 1897, the Pope Manufacturing Co. held over 50 patents. 
  • 1906: the company moved from Hartford, CT to Westfield, MA.
  • 1917: Columbia was chosen as the standard for the U.S. Army by U.S. transportation experts. Thousands of these bicycles were sent to France during the First World War.  The Westfield plant also helped the war effort by manufacturing high-explosive shells for the government. In 1917 and 1918 every American-made gas shell hurled by our army in France, was manufactured in the Westfield plant.”  

There is still a manufacturing company of Columbia bicycles in Westfield, MA but they are also now known for their school furniture.  They still have the original factory as its core, located at One Cycle Street in Westfield, MA.

Naomi Allen
Reference Staff

Monday, September 18, 2017

Special Event: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Cover of The Liberty Bell, vol. 14
Friday, Sept. 29th, 2017—12:30-1:15pm
State Library of Massachusetts, 
Special Collections—Room 55
Massachusetts State House

The Friends of the State Library of Massachusetts will present a special event in the Library's Special Collections Department on September 29th from 12:30-1:15pm: “Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts.” Visitors will be able to view and learn about materials that are normally not on public view.  Items include some of the earliest published laws of Massachusetts, a realistic facsimile of Mayflower passenger William Bradford’s manuscript journal Of Plimoth Plantation, broadsides recruiting soldiers for the Civil War, photographs of African-American soldiers from the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Regiments, a handwritten journal by a Civil War soldier from Massachusetts, early maps of Boston, and beautifully illustrated books on natural history.  Space is limited so register today!

To register or learn more about the event, please visit: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Have a question?  Contact the library’s Special Collections staff directly via e-mail or by phone:
Phone: 617-727-2595

State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Exhibition, featuring Symbols of Massachusetts

Opening on Monday, September 11, the State Library of Massachusetts’s newest exhibition features the official symbols of the Commonwealth. The symbols, all officially approved by the state legislature, range from the whimsical (Ms. G., the State Groundhog) to the philosophical (“Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem,” the State Motto). The exhibition uses materials from the State Library’s collections, including artifacts that illustrate specific symbols. Don’t miss the Boston-style baked beans!

The exhibition, located outside the main library in Room 341 of the State House, will run through December 31, 2017. It is also available through the State Library’s Flickr site. Please come visit!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Trial of Jane Toppan

Jane Toppan (born Honora Kelley) was a Victorian-era serial killer who confessed to murdering 31+
people in Boston and on Cape Cod with lethal doses of poisonous admixtures over a span of about 20 years—starting in the 1880s up until her capture in October of 1901.  Her victims included patients at hospitals where she worked as a nurse, her friends, her landlords, and even her own foster sister.  In June of 1902, Toppan was brought before the Barnstable Superior Court on the charge of murdering Mary D. Gibbs and was found not guilty by reason of insanity.  She spent her remaining years in the Taunton State Hospital and died in 1938.

The State Library has recently digitized the transcript of the 1902 trial and it is now freely available to download through our DSpace digital repository: 

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Caption:  Jane Toppan (1857-1938)