One of Harley-Davidsons principal competitors in the early part of the 20th century was the Pope Manufacturing Company of Westfield, Massachusetts. Better known for its cars, the firm produced motorcycles from 1911 to 1918. The Museum has a 1913 Model L example, used for only eight years prior to storage and donation to the Smithsonian in 1964. Originally selling for $250 and rated at 7-8 hp, tests have shown that its two-cylinder, air-cooled engine actually produced 15.4 hp at 50 mph and a top speed of 60-65 mph.
Another popular bike of the period was the Cleveland, manufactured by the Cleveland Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The Museum has a 1918 example, with a 2 1/2-hp, single-cylinder, 2-stroke air-cooled engine that produced a claimed 35-40 mph through two gears. Originally selling for $175, the 150-lb. motorcycle claimed an astonishing 75 mpg, placing modern internal-combustion transportation in an interesting light.
Also from 1918 is the Museums Autoped Motor Scooter, made by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York. This compact scooter was designed for short distances, in that it had small (15-inch) tires at either end of a short platform on which the driver stood. Once the destination was reached, the steering column, which contained all operating controls, was folded down over the platform and the entire scooter could be stored in a compact space. The little machine was powered by an air-cooled, 4-stroke, 155-cc engine over the front wheel, and it came complete with a headlamp and taillamp, a Klaxon horn, and a toolbox. Developed during wartime and gasoline rationing, the little scooter was quite efficient, but it never achieved widespread distribution. The sit-down type of motor scooter, still popular today, is represented by a 1945 Pacemaker, restored and donated by its original owner in 2000.
From later in the 20th century is the Museums 1935 Simplex Servi-Cycle, made by the Simplex Manufacturing Company of New Orleans, Louisiana. As the name implies, this is an extremely simple motorcycle with a single-cylinder 2-stroke engine producing 2 hp. Lacking even a rudimentary clutch, the engine had to be cut off by means of a kill switch whenever the bike was stopped, and re-started each time motion resumed. It is belt-driven at the rear wheel, which also contains a coaster brake.
The collection is completed by a 1982 Rifle/Yamaha, highly modified for fuel efficiency. Powered by a 185-cc, 4-stroke engine and completely enclosed in a 19-lb. aerodynamic fiberglass fairing, the 175-lb. bike achieved an astonishing 372.22 mpg at the 1983 Vetter Fuel Economy Contest in California. (That event started in response to the 1970s-80s oil crisis.)
Other motorcycle materials at the NMAH include some early racing memorabilia, clothing, helmets, trade literature, photographs, and license plates. Oddly enough, the Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum also has a motorcycle in its collections. This is an experimental vehicle owned by aviation and automotive pioneer Glenn L. Curtiss. In 1907, Curtiss installed an immense, air-cooled, V-8 aircraft engine producing 40 hp in a hand-built motorcycle and ran it on the beach at Daytona, Florida. The shaft-drive bike ran an unofficial flying mile at a claimed 26.4 seconds, for a calculated speed of 136.3 mph. This motorcycle was so outlandish for the time that it did not fit into any known category; as a consequence, its record speed remained unofficial. However, this unique bike was preserved and donated to the Smithsonian, where it underwent restoration.
More than 280 American motorcycle manufacturers have been identified to date, and additional examples from our past are discovered nearly every year. Of these, only Harley-Davidson remains. However, some of the old marques resonate so strongly in modern culture that there are several current efforts to revive once-famous badges, as Triumph has done so successfully in England. Visitors are often surprised that the Smithsonian has so few examples of the extinct American brands; we hope that in the future more of these marques will be added to our holdings.
Further Reading and Information
Oliver, Smith Hempstone, and Donald H. Berkebile, The Smithsonian Collection of Automobiles and Motorcycles (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968).
Oliver, Smith Hempstone, and Donald H. Berkebile, Wheels and Wheeling: The Smithsonian Cycle Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1974).
For more information, contact Road History Collections, MRC 628, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012.