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What Is A High Wheeler? - Ohio Bicycle History

Updated on September 25, 2016
Bicycling in 1887.
Bicycling in 1887. | Source
German postcard, circa 1900
German postcard, circa 1900 | Source

Bike Names and Histories

The name high-wheeler or highwheeler refers to an early style of automobile design, but also to a style of antique bicycle. There are several different names for this type of large-wheeled bicycle. I am familiar with some of them, because my father's employer actually made these bicycles in the 19th century and employees enjoyed making them.

The high-wheeler was a fad of sorts, but they often appear in parades today and antiques sell for large amounts of money.

The Jeffrey Mining and Manufacturing Company located in Columbus, Ohio, in North Carolina, and elsewhere became better known for mining and industrial machinery, but in the 1880's they made high-wheeled bicycles.

These bikes included special safety features that prevented the rider from flying over the top of the bike. However, this type of bicycle became less popular after 1890 and was replaced by bikes with equal-sized wheels; but in 1887, the Jeffrey high wheeled safety bike was all the rage.

The company went on to produce mining and other machinery, manufactured items for WWII, and returned to mining machinery post-war. It closed down in the late 20th Century, its manufacturing floor to become the State Library of Ohio on East First Avenue in Columbus.

If you visit today, you can view large photos of the old plant and various machinery taken on display in old-time parades many decades ago.

Archives of CIT, 1933 photo
Archives of CIT, 1933 photo

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

— Albert Einstein
1894 Electrobat high-wheeled car.
1894 Electrobat high-wheeled car. | Source

A high wheeler is also an early automobile that had narrow, large-diameter wheels. About 40 brands of cars used this body style in the beginning of the 20th century.

Bike Names and Places

Another name for this type of bicycle is the penny-farthing, which might indicate that this is the British version of the two-wheeler from the 19th Century -- A penny and a farthing placed side by side resemble the wheels of the bicycle. A nickname for this type of bicycle is high-wheeler. It was also called the ordinary bicycle. The first vision of this vehicle was called the bone-shaker and it's rear wheel was not so much smaller. It did jostle the rider quite thoroughly.

Another name brand for the high-wheeler is the Columbia Expert 1883 - 1885. The Columbia Expert was built in Boston, Connecticut by the Pope Manufacturing Company. One of these bicycles was ridden as late as 1984 in the Ride Across America event and it likely appears at other biking events.

The company for which my father worked for 40 years - Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, in partnership with Gormully in Chicago, Illinois made the 1887 American Safety version of the famous two-wheeled bicycle with the gigantic front wheel. It was called the G and J American Safety Bicycle. See a 1889 version of the G and J here.

The aviation Wright Brothers had a famous bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio before they flew their first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Thus, there is a lot of bicycle history in Ohio and a lot of biking rails. Large bicycle clubs have formed and internationally known bike races and tours begin in Columbus, Ohio quite often - like the Pelotonia that benefits cancer research.

Boneshaker and High Wheeler

The boneshaker, first produced in 1970 to the left in the photo below was a forerunner of the high wheelers that appeared in 1883. The American Safety high wheeler began production in 1887.

1869 Hanlon Brothers boneshaker and 1885 Victor high wheeler displayed in Colorado.
1869 Hanlon Brothers boneshaker and 1885 Victor high wheeler displayed in Colorado. | Source

Dayton: Famous Bicycle City

Huffman Manufacturing Company makes bikes today and was conceived by George P. Huffman when he bought a sewing machine company in 1887 and moved it to Dayton, Ohio. Changing to the production of bicycles, Huffman's son Horace made the Dayton brand bike, followed by Huffy. Huffman Prairie at Wright Patterson AFB is the area where the Wright Brothers tested their aircraft.

The Wright Cycle Company building in Downtown Dayton
The Wright Cycle Company building in Downtown Dayton | Source

Bicycle Museums

Top Bicycle Museum

If you have the opportunity, visit the Bicycle Museum of America, in Ohio at:

  • 7 West Monroe Street
  • New Bremen, Ohio 45869
  • (419) 629-9249

The museum includes the historic C and J Safety Bicycle that you might enjoy seeing.

Chapters Seven and Eight in the book Bicycle,by David Herlihy (2004) are devoted to the High-Wheel Era. These chapters contain many pictures, cartoons, posters, and photographs of the famous bikes.

The Bicycle Museum of America

A marker7 West Monroe Street New Bremen, Ohio 45869 -
7 W Monroe St, New Bremen, OH 45869, USA
get directions

  • Pedaling History Museum: 3943 N. Buffalo Road, Orchard Park NY 14127. Many of the bikes and other historic pieces were purchases by the Houston Bicycle Museum at 1313 Binz St., Houston TX 77004.

At the Pedaling History Museum In New York


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I think this was written at least a year ago, funride. Some used bike shops still carry these bikes. Hope you find a shop with one and can ride it. Do you have any bicycle museums near you? -- Maybe they keep some of them around for visitors. That would be fun. Thanks for posting a comment!

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 9 years ago from Portugal

      How come I never saw this hub!? How long have you published it Patty?

      I remember when I was a little boy there was this bike shop where my parents always took me to see one of this great bicycles. Unfortunately I was never able to try and ride it but even today I have that wish, who knows maybe someday :)