Posts Tagged ‘John Dodge’

Dodge brothers: cyclists, machinists, crime fighters

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

John Dodge's bicycle from 1898

Below is an exciting story about the Dodge Brothers which doesn’ t have much to do with cycling — but it’s an exciting story!

To begin, we’ve already mentioned that John and Horace Dodge had a major role in Detroit’s rich cycling history.

  • They both volunteered as judge and timer at various Detroit Wheelmen bike races at Belle Isle and at the track. (The Detroit Wheelmen was the city’s premier cycling club during this era.)
  • “Mr. Dodge” was stoker in a 2-mile tandem race on the Detroit banked track in 1897.
  • They received a bicycle bearing patent (No. 567,851) in 1896 which was part of a unique design for hubs and bottom brackets.
  • They formed the Detroit Bicycle Improvement Company in March of 1897 with $40,000 in capital.
  • They manufactured the Evans and Dodge bicycles in Windsor in partnership with Canadian Fred Evans. They sold their interest in the company in 1900 and opened a machine shop in Detroit’s Boydell Building on Beaubien near Greektown (now home to Nikki’s Club and Pizzeria.)

After opening the machine shop, they began making automobile engines and components for Olds, and a few years later for Henry Ford.

So they stopped biking then, right?

Apparently not.

In 1905, John Dodge ran for a director position on the Detroit Wheelmen board. We’re not sure yet whether he was elected, but we do know that his brother Horace was elected the club’s Second Vice-President the following year.

And it seems they were still involved with Detroit’s premier cycling club in 1908 when this story begins.

Auto Thieves come to Grief

That was the title of a Detroit Free Press article published in September of 1908. John Dodge, then a Water Commissioner for the city of Detroit, parked his car in front of the Detroit Wheelmen’s clubhouse on Adams, just a block east of today’s Cheli’s Chili.

It was a Saturday night and 17-year old George Duplus and a couple friends decided to steal a car, cruise Jefferson, and pick up girls. John Dodge’s car was large enough to carry them and their anticipated passengers, so they stole it. However, after an evening of cruising Jefferson, they never got more than waves from the ladies.

In the meantime, realizing his car was stolen, John called his brother Horace. They decided to hunt for it themselves. This was somewhat realistic since they’re weren’t all that many cars in Detroit at the time.

According to the Free Press, they found the car shortly after 1 AM on Mt. Elliot just north of East Grand Boulevard.

The Dodge brothers followed the machine until they were certain that it was the stolen one and then Commissioner [John] Dodge fired a shot at the rubber-tired wheel. Instantly, the auto containing the three lads came to a standstill. One of the young men was thrown violently over the dash board and landed on his face in the street, while this two companions jumped out of the machine and ran away.

Patrolman [Otto] Taube heard the shot and hurrying to the scene, found Duplus still lying unconscious on the street. The policeman and the Dodge brothers worked over Duplus for 20 minutes before he recovered consciousness.

Is “worked over” to be taken literally or as a euphemism? Perhaps the latter according to this source:

There are numerous anecdotes illustrating [John Dodge’s] volatility. He once, for example, was reported to have threatened a Detroit saloon owner with a pistol, forced him to dance on the top of his bar and then applauded his dancing skills by smashing dozens of glasses against the walls of the saloon. A sober John Dodge returned the next day to apologize and pay for the damages.

Duplus later confessed to the story, adding:

“I was driving the machine and turned north on Mt. Elliot avenue. A minute later someone fired a shot and I reversed the power and the machine came to a sudden stop. That is the last that I knew until I revived on the street and the policeman was standing over me.”

Duplus, who worked at Packard, was charged with grand larceny. He had been arrested on a similar charge .

More Dodge Trivia

From a Chrysler paper, The Dodge Brothers: “At age 13, with the help of brother John, [Horace] built a working high-wheel bicycle from scrap materials.” Impressive.

John Dodge not only served on Detroit’s Water Commission Board (1905 through 1910), he also served on the Detroit Street Railway Commission (1913 through 1920.) He helped settle a transit strike in 1914 and led a campaign advocating for public ownership of the streetcar system.

The Dodge Brothers were multi-modal supporters.

Detroit museums and bike history

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

John Dodge's fixie cruiser from 1898

Detroit has some amazing bicycling history. Those early cyclists led the Good Roads movement, founded MDOT, and were instrumental in creating the automotive industry and motorspots.

We’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to see some of this history up close.

Detroit Historic Museum

We’ve mentioned in the past how the Museum has a replica of the famous Huber and Metzger Bicycle Shop in the basement.

But, there’s more bike history in their collection according to their curator:

We try to get everything out from time to time. We have the medals and Wheelman trophy in our Velocity exhibit now through August. There also is a 1899 F.J. Martz & Co., Detroit-made bicycle in the exhibit. I had hoped to use the Whipple, but not enough room – the perennial problem.

Some of the medals and trophy were won by Ernest Moross. Moross raced on the velodrome, was a “longtime associate of the first American auto racing superstar, Barney Oldfield… [and] obtained distinction as the first Contest Director for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway“.

The “Whipple” being referred to is a “watercolor promoting the League of American Wheelmen. Shows a woman cycle riders on good road contrasted with wagon on poor road.” It was painted by Detroit artist Seth Whipple (1855-1901), who is perhaps more famous for his maritime paintings.

But perhaps what we’d like to see most is their Evans and Dodge Bicycle. It was John Dodge’s bike from when his company built it in 1898 until 1905. It’s an aluminum frame fixie with some chrome/nickel plated parts, and black wheels with a “large gold stripe around the center.” It looks like he pushed a big gear too. Unfortunately it’s not currently on display.

The Henry Ford

The League of American Bicyclists sent the following request out to its members:

Today we had an interesting request that we thought that you all would be able to help answer. The Henry Ford museum is researching images for a new exhibit on the automobile in American life for the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich. Part of their story describes alternative choices to the automobile, past and present. They are looking for a portrait of Horatio Earle, who was instrumental in the early League of American Wheelmen, as well as a force in the Good Roads Movement in the early 20th century. If you have one the archive could use, they prefer a 300 dpi tiff digital file. Please e-mail Brynn Raupagh at

We contacted Brynn about contributing. He said he was “buried with responses!” and got a photo from MDOT — which Horatio Earle founded.

We’re looking forward to seeing this new exhibit.

And if you decide to go, don’t forgot to visit Orville and Wilbur’s original Wright Cycle Shop just next door in Greenfield Village. Henry Ford moved their bike shop from Dayton to Greenfield Village in 1937.