'Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle
Works' of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, was a leading
American manufacturer of arms and cycles in
its day. Their popularity in the 21st Century
is due to their excellent advertisements, particularly
for the Iver Johnson pistol with their famous
The Iver Johnson truss-bridge
design ran from 1909 until the early 1920s,
and was very popular as it was well-priced and
a well-made lightweight cycle. The 'motobike'
versions (a pretend motorcycle for kids) had
a pretend petrol tank under the crossbar.
Although A.O. Smith was founded
in 1904, the company traces its history back
to the mid-19th century, when Charles Jeremiah
(C. J.) Smith emigrated from England to the
United States. The journeyman metal tradesman
ventured all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
and, after being self-employed for a decade,
went to work for the Milwaukee Railroad Shop.
As a highly skilled workman, he made a good
living, but went back into business for himself
in 1874, when he opened a machine shop and began
manufacturing baby carriage parts. Two of Smith's
four sons, Charles S. and George H., joined
the family firm in the mid-1880s.
As bicycles became popular in
the last decade of the century, C.J. Smith and
Sons branched out. By 1895, it was the largest
manufacturer of steel bicycle parts in the United
The patriarch called in his eldest
son, Arthur O. (A. O.), an architectural engineer
specializing in large buildings, to help build
a five-story factory for the growing family
business. After two years of close work with
his father, A.O. decided to join the company
permanently as treasurer. By then, C.J. Smith
and Sons had declared itself the largest manufacturer
of component bicycle parts in the world.
Increasing overcapacity in that
industry and the advent of the automobile brought
another change to C.J. Smith and Sons. In 1899
the family sold its business to the Federal
Bicycle Corporation of America, a then-legal
monopoly known as the 'Bicycle Trust.' A.O.
retained management of the Milwaukee (or 'Smith
Parts') Branch of the Trust. Arthur Smith indulged
his personal interest in the composition and
manufacture of automobile frames with two years
of 'tinkering' that culminated in the sale of
his first automotive frame to the Peerless Motor
Car Co. in 1902. Word of his frame, which was
lighter, stronger, more flexible, and cheaper
than conventional ones, spread quickly: by the
following year, Smith had contracts with six
major automobile manufacturers.
A.O. Smith quit Federal in 1903,
bought the Smith Parts Co. from his former employer,
and incorporated it as A.O. Smith Company in
1904. The company's sales totaled $375,733 and
profits topped $100,000 that first year. Unfortunately,
patriarch C.J. Smith also passed away in 1904.
In April 1906, Henry Ford contracted
with A.O. Smith for frames. At the time, the
company was producing only ten pressed steel
frames a day. Ford needed 10,000 frames in four
months, a tenfold increase in the prevailing
production rate. Realizing that adding workers
and space would only consume valuable time in
training and construction, Smith looked for
ways to increase efficiency through technological
improvements. He and his team of engineers retooled
existing presses to produce two corresponding
halves of an auto frame simultaneously and arranged
the presses to form a continuous assembly line.
The delivery of 10,000 A.O. Smith frames that
August helped Ford introduce his popularly priced
Model N late in 1906 and attracted more automobile
manufacturers to the supplier. Because A.O.
Smith soon found itself turning away business,
it built a new, larger headquarters on 135 acres
on the outskirts of Milwaukee to accommodate
demand. By the end of the decade, A.O. Smith
was manufacturing 110,000 frames per year, over
60 percent of the auto industry's requirements.
Three years later, when A.O. Smith
died, his son Lloyd Raymond (Ray) was made president.
Ray's was not just a dynastic leadership, however.
Both A.O. and L.R. Smith were later inducted
into the Automotive Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin
Business Hall of Fame. The 23-year-old former
company secretary had previously proposed manufacturing
improvements that multiplied A.O. Smith's production
rate seven times: by 1916, the company was manufacturing
800,000 frames per year--half the auto industry's
needs. Called 'decisive, restless and a profound
thinker' by corporate historians, Ray Smith
also propelled the family company into new ventures.
Smith bought a license to manufacture 'The Motor
Wheel,' a small gas engine that could be attached
to a bicycle's rear wheel to make a 'motorbike.'
The company sold 25,000 of the vehicles nationwide
from 1914 to 1919, and even applied the technology
to a small wooden 'sports car' called the Smith
L.R. Smith's reluctance to pay
for the marketing support necessary to maintain
such products' popularity, combined with the
fact that the United States was thoroughly embroiled
in World War I, brought diversification to a
halt in 1919. A.O. Smith manufactured hollow-steel
artillery vehicle poles and bomb casings for
the war effort. By war's end, the company was
producing 6,500 bomb casings per day, thanks
to a welding breakthrough that produced stronger
bonds in less time.
||1918 Smith Motorwheel attached to
Iver Johnson Truss-Bridge Cycle
Iver Johnson Truss-bridge bicycle
motivated by a Smith Motorwheel
unit that is fitted alongside the
rear wheel. Like other late 19th
Century/ early 20th Century bicycles
it is fixed pedal drive. There are
|1916 Smith Motor Wheel
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