1920s Lobdell Wooden Gambling Wheel

1920s Lobdell Wooden Gambling Wheel


This fascinating item is a gambling ‘paddle’ made from a wooden bicycle wheel.


E.J. Lobdell was a manufacturer of bicycle components, including saddles and wheels.

I’m not sure why Lobdell wheels in particular were favoured for conversion to roulette wheels, but I’ve come across a few similar ones. They represent an interesting era of American history, when gambling and drinking became illegal, with the ironic result of an incredible boom in both industries.

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By the late 19th century, people in American cities had started to react against the lawlessness of the ‘wild west’ and  by 1850 several states had passed laws that restricted or banned people from drinking alcohol.  By the end of the 19th Century, two powerful pressure groups the ‘Anti – Saloon League’ and ‘Women’s Temperance Union’ had been set up. These pressure groups had the support of rich and powerful men like Henry Ford who gave them money to put adverts in magazines and pamphlets to attack bars and saloons.  At election times these groups would ask politicians to state whether they were ‘dry’ or ‘wet’ so it became politically expedient for politicians to promote temperance.

By the time the USA went to war in 1917, eighteen states had already banned alcohol.

The First World War helped the Anti-Saloon League to win its fight to make the USA ‘dry’ and ban alcohol.  Many American brewers were German immigrants, so the League claimed that people who drank beer were traitors to their country.  Congress agreed with this view and in 1918 amended, or changed, the Constitution to prohibit Americans from making, selling or moving alcoholic drinks.  It was now illegal to possess or drink alcohol. However, the laws did not stop people from drinking.  Secret saloon bars – speakeasies – opened up in cellars and back rooms. Drinkers had to use special passwords or a special knock at the door to be let in.

The sale of alcohol, along with associated crimes such as prostitution and gambling, was now big business, and it soon came under the control of gangsters. Bootleggers smuggled alcohol across borders, and the production of ‘moonshine’ became a national pastime. In 1929, the government estimated that 700 million gallons of home-brewed beer were produced in the USA.  This is backed up by the fact that government agents seized 35, 200 illegal stills in 1928. By 1933 there were 200,000 speakeasies in America. In New York alone there were 32,000 speakeasies, whereas before prohibition there had been only 15,000 saloons.

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E.J. LOBDELL

American Wood Rim Company,

Onaway, Michigan


The American Wood Rim Company, of which E. J. Lobdell was president, produced bicycle wheels and automobile steering-wheels. The Lobdell & Churchill Manufacturing Company also ran an extensive plant for the turning out of hardwood lumber. In 1926 there was a major fire at the plant:

FOUR MEN ARE BURNED TO DEATH AS DISASTROUS FIRE RUINS BUILDING OF A. W. R. CO.

Fire breaking out at about 8:30 a. m. this morning swept thu the main buildings of the American Wood Rim Company’s Automobile Steering Wheel and Bicycle Rim manufacturing plant and completely destroyed those departments before it could be brought under control.

A full crew of men and women were at work when the blaze started and of the number, four were trapped in the buildings and are believed to have been burned to death.

Manager Edward Lobdell, Jr. and the Superintendents and foremen are at a loss to explain how the missing men became caught in the blazing building as all made an effort to see that every employee was sent from the departments as soon as the alarm was given and there was time enough for all to have made their escape.

Mr. Lobdell stated he believed the fire to have been caused from a spark of static electricity which was caught up from a shaft and becoming drawn into the blowers of a sanding machine caused the explosion in the blower system and the pipes breaking up released the fire in several places in the room at once.

Onaway Outlook, January 14, 1926

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I found this Lobdell advert while browsing through the November 1928 edition of Boy’s Life magazine.

This New Departure coaster brake advert was in it too, with what looks like an Iver Johnson Trussbridge bicycle pictured.

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1925 Lobdell Catalogue

Published on April 16, 2010 at 4:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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