Posts Tagged ‘John Shire’

John Shire: Detroit’s first bicycle manufacturer?

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

John Shire's velocipede at the Smithsonian in 1914

The 1877 Detroit Business Directory lists Corktown resident John Shire as a carriage maker located at 151 Larned (near St. Antoine.)

The next year he’s listed as a bicycle manufacturer — the only one listed in Detroit.

He remained the sole bicycle, then velocipede manufacturer through 1892. In 1881 he moved his business to what is now 1518 18th Street then 1940 23rd Street just two years later. There is new infill housing at the first address. The second address is residential as well.

One of Shire’s bikes from 1879 is in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection. They describe the bike as follows:

The forked frame and the front-wheel fork are both made of wood with iron reinforcements. The front-wheel fork pivots at the front of the frame, straight wooden handlebars surmounting it. Also serving as a pivot point for the front fork is the upper end of a nearly vertical wooden brace, the lower end of which is connected by iron bars to the lower extremity of the frame. Both the wheels have wooden hubs, spokes, and felloes, with thin metal tires. Each wheel has 14 spokes staggered in the hub. The diameter of the front wheel is 38 inches and of the rear, 28 3/4 inches. Wooden crank arms, having a 5-inch throw but not adjustable as to their working length, are attached to the front axle. Spool-shaped wooden pedals are mounted at the ends of the arms. Oil cups are mounted at each end of the two axles. A wide wooden mudguard is affixed above the rear wheel. The saddle is made of wood, canvas, and leather. There is no brake. The finish on this velocipede is black with both gold and red striping. The mudguard bears a large piece of gold-leaf scrollwork similar to that found on Concord coaches and other horse-drawn commercial vehicles, and the front fork bears gold-leaf scrollwork that is more delicate.

Wood wheels and metal tires meant this early bike was truly a bone-shaker. It had a modest 38 gear inches.

Shire showed his machine at the 1879 Michigan State Fair. Oddly enough it was shown in the Farm Implements division.

Shire also received a patent in 1879 for the bike’s hammock-style saddle. This design certainly would have cushioned the ride from Detroit’s rough road surfaces, which were often paved with cedar or brick.

Shire also received a patent earlier in 1876 for a sleigh design.

Was Shire the first bicycle/velocipede manufacturer in Detroit? We’re not sure. There were at least three other velocipede patents issued to Detroiters before Shire.

While these contraptions look interesting, we can’t find any evidence that they went into production.

We do know that unlike Shire’s velocipede, these three are not in the Smithsonian.

Special thanks to Mikeg for helping us translate pre-1920s Detroit addresses to their modern equivalents.