Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Rex cycle, 1898

Enlarge Image
Rex cycle, 1898
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: 72-5925


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Bicycle Collection — The collection 1896-1927

Rex Bicycle
Catalog #: 333,681, Accession #: 304,752
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This machine was donated to the Museum in 1972. It was the invention of Bohn C. Hicks of Chicago, Illinois, who assigned his rights to the Rex Cycle Company, of the same city. Mr. Hicks obtained three patents on this type of machine in 1896, and another on a four-wheel "tricycle" in 1897. While it might seem inconsistent to apply the term "bicycle" to a 3-wheel machine, this is not a tricycle in the usual sense of the word. The unusual construction of the Rex cycle resulted from Hicks' efforts to produce a machine "particularly adapted to absorb or minimize the shocks incident to riding over obstructions." This objective, stated in the patents, was accomplished by mounting the seat near the front of a long tube, extending from a pivot near the front wheel to the smaller rear wheel. Consequently, the successive upward movements of the front and driving wheels, as they passed over a bump, caused minimal upward movement of the pivot point and, hence, of the seat. Likewise, by reason of the distance from the small rear wheel to the seat being greater than that from the seat to the pivot, the subsequent upward movement of that wheel was also minimized. The cycle, in effect, undulated over bumps, leaving the level of the seat relatively unaffected.

While this cycle does not entirely agree with the patent drawings, and there is no nameplate on it, the diary of its original owner, Robert Wightman (great-grandfather of the donors), of Will County, Illinois, states that he went to Chicago on 23 June 1898 and bought a Rex cycle. Just two months later he made an entry to the effect that he "enlarged the bike house,"possibly to accommodate the greater length of this cycle.

Physical Description

Artifact. The Rex cycle displays some of the conventional construction of a common Safety bicycle, except that it does not have the diamond frame. Instead, it is the cross-frame type, wherein the top tube is not horizontal but inclines downward in a straight line towards the rear hull, with those parts normally called back stays continuing to the hub from the point where the top tube terminates. From a point near the front of the down tube, a long, arching backbone is pivoted, terminating between the rear and driving wheels at a double-pivoted fitting that surmounts a post from which forks extend to both of these wheels.

The present wheels are not the originals, though two of the original wheels accompanied the machine, and will eventually be reinstalled. The wood-rim wheels originally carried 28-inch single-tube tires, and the small wheel probably had a 16-inch tire. When these tires wore out and could not be replaced, a pair of 26-inch wheels and a 14-inch wheel were substituted.

The present driving wheel has a New Departure coaster brake, whereas the cycle originally was not provided with a brake. The seat and pedals are later replacements, but the now fragile cork grips are original. Black enamel and the usual nickel-plated parts complete the finish of the Rex cycle.

Date Made:
Gift of Anne Bray Schmidt, Margaret Wighiman Schmidt, Katherine Greene Schmidt, and Nicholas Ward Schmidt

National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits