Pope Read More2020-03-31T15:40:40+00:00

Pope Motorcycle Company history continued – 

The Pope motorcycle Company owes its existence to brevet lieutenant colonel Albert Augustus Pope of the Union’s 35th Massachusetts Infantry

There was four things that made Colonel Albert Augustus Pope the great Titan of the 19th century as well as here in our current history. One attending the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 could see his first bicycle. To help  to establish our federal Government  Road department as we know it today. As if that was not enough, he would go on to producing the first electric powered cars. The last thing in the 19th century that made him one of the great men of his time was his final work in developing one of the great motorcycles of its day. Many of the first motorcycle companies were offshoots of expansion from existing companies within booming bicycle industry of the late 1800”s

The one profound life changing experiences was attending the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition where one was captivated by a display of British high- wheel Bicycles. The DNA history of the American motorcycle industry can be traced back to that day in time. The next year, sensing a commercial opportunity he formed the Pope Bicycle Company in 1877 and began to import directly from England. With America’s enormous  craze for the European  high-wheel bicycles, Pope became frustrated by the slow deliveries from overseas. With ever increasing demand for his high-wheel bicycles, he raised enough capital to start producing his own brand under the trade name of Columbia Bicycles. He contracted the production work to the well-equipped Weed Sewing Machine Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Augustus Pope would then put his attention on buying up Pierre Lallementt’s original patent for the bicycle, and aggressively bought all other bicycle patents he could find, amassing a fortune by restricting the types of bicycles other American manufacturers could make and charging them royalties.

Safety Bicycles, or what we today just simply call bicycles, came about because of John Kemp Starley’s Rover in 1885. Pope was slow to come about to a lowly bicycles. Pope claimed that the safety bicycle was nothing more than a fad, but in 1888 Pope had reversed course, and changed his position on it and started producing his own Safety Bicycles.

Pope’s bicycles would reach ever greater success by controlling his supply chain for his products. In 1892 pope brought much of the material for production in-house, buying the Hartford Rubber Works, a steel company, and the largest nickel-plating factory in the world. By 1895, Pope’s expanded Hartford operation included five factories set on 17 acres, employing 4,000 workers, making him New England’s  largest employer. Then in 1896, pope employed 200 clerks who were stationed in a large building all to themselves with over 2,000 workmen. Pope owned a rubber facility, a steel-tube works, a printing company, a telegraph office, and for its time, quite a little self-sufficient town. But we have not mentioned the good part yet.

Colonel Albert A. Pope was proud that his workers never unionized. He had created upscale employee housing for them near his plant, assembled an employee brass band and a library, and made Pope Park as a peaceful retreat for his workers.

Elements of change was in the wind. Colonel Pope could see the growth in the last decade of the 19th century.The railroad established itself as the dominant form of overland transportation, but still there were no roads that connected the towns across this country. In 1880 Pope convened a meeting of 31 cycling clubs in Newport, Rhode Island and formed the League of American Wheelman, a national organization with state chapters that acted to promote bicycle touring. In 1886 the League of American Wheelman would produce the first pocket-size cyclist road book of Connecticut. By1890 the League of American Wheelman had revised the book to include more than a dozen suggested cycling tours and fold-out highway maps. Each road was rated from poor to first class, for the condition of the roadway as well as its grade, from level to very hilly.

You might then ask where were the elements of change in the wind? As a member of the league’s national executive committee, Albert Pope became a relentless advocate for good roads, using his own funds to establish the league’s Good Roads Magazine and to endow the cost of courses in highway engineering to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pope’s advocacy proved effective on both the national and state levels. Congress established the Office of Road Inquiry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1893.While the Office of Road Inquiry did not plan or fund a national network of good roads (that would have to wait for its successor, the Bureau of Public Roads, and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1916), it became a permanent presence in the national government and replaced the League of American Wheelman as the chief lobbyist for good roads.

In 1897, Pope Manufacturing began producing electric cars. By this time Colonel Pope had become a millionaire in the bicycle industry. In 1897, Colonel Pope began investing in  experiments with early electric automobiles and Pope created an automotive division within his Pope Manufacturing Company. While most manufacturers were developing new and better gasoline-powered cars, Pope was confident that clean, quiet, electric car would be the wave of the future. In 1896, he founded the Columbia Electric Vehicle Company in Hartford and a year later, demonstrated the world’s first public production model of an electric-powered car. Until 1900, Pope was Hartford’s most significant employer as the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles and the largest automaker. His production of 2,092 cars (some gas-powered) in 1899 accounted for nearly half of the  automobiles made in the United States, but his determination to produce electric vehicles eventually became his downfall.

Electric storage batteries were heavy and incapable of holding charges for long periods. Meanwhile, new and abundant supplies of petroleum provided gas-powered vehicles with an edge over their electric counterparts. Pope’s efforts were further hampered by the prohibitive costs of shipping raw materials to New England, and he began to lose ground to his Midwestern competitors. A plan to generate wealth through the pursuit of patent-infringement lawsuits redirected Pope’s energies away from technology and innovation, allowing men like Henry Ford to surpass him as the nation’s leading automaker. By 1899, Pope’s company had produced over 500 vehicles. The Electric Vehicle division was spun off that year as the independent Columbia Automobile Company, but it was acquired by the Electric Vehicle Company by the end of the year. 

Between the years 1903 and 1915, the company operated a number of automobile companies including Pope-Hartford (1903-1914), Pope-Robinson, Pope-Toledo (1903-1909), Pope-Tribune (1904-1907) and Pope-Waverley.

Pope declared bankruptcy in 1907 and died in August 1909.

By 1902, the Pope Manufacturing Company oversaw the American Cycle Company, the forerunner of the Pope Motorcycle Company with the culture of the bicycle company, and Pope built a dealer network for his fledgling motorcycle company. With his efforts in both the industry and the culture, Pope had helped to create a rich and sturdy foundation for the new motorcycle industry to emerge from in the early 1900’s

Pope Motorcycles:

True American Pedigree by Chris Price

Colonel Albert Pope was the captain of the American bicycle culture and played a substantial role in the proliferation of the cycling industry as well as the sport of cycle racing in the late 1800s. With his efforts in both the industry and the culture, Pope had helped create a rich and sturdy foundation for the new motorcycle industry to emerge from in the early 1900’s. Though his first experiments with the motorcycle wouldn’t last much longer than 1905, it was his work with cycles, motorcycles, and automobiles coupled with his passion for the culture that paved the way for his son, Albert Linder Pope, to take the reins of the company in 1909 when his father passed. Inspired, Albert Jr. rededicated the company’s operations to motorcycle production and returned to the culture which they had helped create.

In 1911, the very first Pope-branded machines rolled out of the Westfield, MA factory into a marketplace now flooded with competition. The Pope Model H was a grey, V-Belt driven, 3HP single cylinder, an inexpensive unitarian motorcycle capable of 40 MPH and made available for just over $100. As soon as the new machines were introduced, and despite the fact that the new Pope motorcycles were only meant for basic, affordable transport, customers began testing their limits at local horse track races and hill climbs with moderate success, and for the first time race statistics across the country featured a new name: Pope. 

At this point, Indian was still the dominant American motorcycle manufacturer. Excelsior was beginning to make their name on the competitive circuit, and Harley-Davidson was busy gearing up for their massive new factory at Juneau Avenue. The marketplace, as well as the racetracks, were saturated with successful brands like Thor, Flying-Merkel, and Reading-Standard, so to maintain a competitive edge Pope developed and introduced a new, state-of-the-art technology, the overhead valve engine. Though overhead valve engines were not exactly new, having been utilized in factory racing specials at Indian since the Spring of 1911, as well as in new innovations by Perry Mack at the time.

In 1912 Pope became the first and only American motorcycle manufacturer to offer 61cubic inch overhead valve V-Twin engines in their production line up. In addition they also offered a full suspension frame, with a spring fork and rear plunger spring assembly. A handful of models were offered at competitive prices given the level of high-end technology that Pope made available to the consumer, with OHV singles and twins ranging in price from $165 to $250. The company was never a mass manufacturer of motorcycles like their competition at Indian, Harley-Davidson, or Excelsior, but their innovative technology made for steady sales, and their powerful OHV engines provided aspiring privateers racers with a competitive performance platform at the track. 

Throughout 1913 Pope motorcycles were raced across the country, mostly at local horse tracks, road races, or hill climbs. More notable riders like Motordrome star Henry Lewis and flat track icon Dave Kinnie began competing on Pope machines, even a young Shrimp Burns is said to have cut his teeth on a Pope, but without any significant factory racing program the larger name riders inked contracts with companies like the mighty Indian or the up and coming, competition-centric Cyclone.  

Perhaps Pope’s greatest attempt at landing a punch on the “Big Three” at the track came at the inaugural Dodge City 300 road race in July, 1914. Five riders fielded Pope OHV twins for the big event, two factory sponsored riders and three support riders. The race would also be the debut of Harley-Davidson’s newest factory built racing machine, Bill Ottaway’s 11K, though despite their presence the Milwaukee company, they had yet to officially throw their hat into the ring of professional motorcycle racing.

With temperatures around 100 degrees that day, the 1914 Dodge City race was an all out assault on the men and machines that dared to compete. Of the 36 who entered only 6 actually crossed the finish line on the 300th mile. Because of the heat those machines were still running after the sixth finisher was told to pit and was still credited with finishing. Three of the legitimate finishers were Indian Motorcycles, along with two Thor’s and one Excelsior, overall only the Indian and Thor teams could say that their entire field finished. It was Indian’s Glenn “Slivers” Boyd who took home the big prize at that first Dodge City race on July 4, 1914, with Thor’s Bill Brier coming in second, and Excelsior’s Carl Goudy finishing third. To their dismay none of the new Harley’s made it across the finish line, nor did any of the robust OHV Pope machines, most failing to finish due to broken rocker arms or bent valves.

Edgar Roy, one of the Pope support riders from Wichita, KS made it 205 out of the total 300 miles which made him the best finishing Pope that day in 19th place. Albert Pope Jr. had hoped that the momentum gained with their production innovations would have helped the company do better against the titans of the motorcycle industry, but unfortunately it was becoming near impossible to compete with Indian, Harley-Davidson, and Excelsior both on and off the track. Discouraged, Pope turned away from the sport of professional racing, and though privateers would continue to compete and win with the rugged and elegant Pope twin for years to come. The company itself spent the remainder of their days vying for market share in a dwindling industry. 

The success of the Big Three at the track, their established and expansive dealership networks, and their massive manufacturing capabilities made it difficult for many of the smaller brands like Pope to compete in the industry. Add to this a revolutionary new approach to automobile manufacturing developed by Henry Ford, a war which was devouring Europe, and an ever-shrinking American motorcycle market and you begin to see the writing on the wall for Pope that Albert Jr. saw by the mid-teens.

The Pope lineup went largely unchanged in their final years, and by the time American involved itself in the Great War, Pope, like so many other American motorcycle manufacturers ceased production and converted their factories into manufacturing war supplies, machine guns in Pope’s case. Within two generations the Pope men had brought American culture from the dark, primitive struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction, into the light of the industrial, modern age. Colonel Albert Pope Sr. had helped create the rich culture of cycling in America, laying the groundwork for the explosion which was to be auto and motorcycle culture at the birth of the 20th century.

His son, Albert Pope Jr. had taken that legacy and attempted to breathe new life into the culture by introducing one of the most innovative, elegant machines offered up until that point. Though today, the Pope motorcycle is yet another forgotten early brand hardly known outside of the collector market, it is an all American brand which can trace its pedigree back farther than any other. It is a heritage that in no small measure helped give birth to all two-wheeled culture in America.