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Exhibitions > 1896

The Van Cleve - the Wriht's brothers bicycle

Before turning to build planes, the Wright Brothers produced bicycles. The Van Cleeve bicycle, the first model they produced, was exhibited in 1896. Like other manufacturers, the Wright Brothers were motivated by their love of biking. In 1880, during the "bicycle boom," Wilbur Wright purchased a Penny-Farthing bicycle. In 1892, Orville Wright purchased the Columbia Safety Bike produced by Albert Pope.

They began repairing their own bicycles and those of acquaintances, and then opened their first bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, where they sold, fixed, and rented bicycles. The shop opened on July 4, 1892, just in time for the annual meeting of the League of American Wheelmen. This event included 13 bicycle races, and was attended by thousands of bicycle riders. In 1896, the Wright Brothers began producing their own bicycles, and sold two models: the Van Cleeve, which sold for $65, and the St. Clair, which sold for $42. The business prospered, with profits of as much as $3000 in 1897, when a factory worker's average salary was $500.

Their economic success enabled them to finance their flight experiments. With the expansion of the bicycle industry worldwide, thousands of small business began producing bicycles in order to respond to the growing demand. As large corporations began to mass-produce bicycles, their price dropped to as low as $10, and the price of the Van Cleeve model was similarly lowered. Whereas many of the bicycle manufacturers drew on knowledge from the ammunition and sewing-machine industries, the Wright brothers prided themselves on their small-scale, manual production process. Over time, their attention shifted increasingly to the development of airplanes. In 1909, they sold the bicycle company and production permit to a bicycle repairman and seller named W.F. Meyers.


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