1922 Iver Johnson Truss-Bridge Bicycle

1922 Iver Johnson Truss-Bridge Cycle

(Now sold)


My Iver Johnson Truss-bridge bicycle was originally motivated by a Smith Motorwheel fitted alongside the rear wheel.


The Iver Johnson is in excellent restored, running order with later steel wheels and tyres.

Like other late 19th Century/ early 20th Century bicycles it’s fixed pedal drive.


The Smith Motorwheel was in excellent unrestored, original and complete condition. I sold the Motorwheel and kept the Iver Johnson cycle.


Both Iver Johnson and A.O. Smith are interesting American companies, with well-documented histories.

Here is some background to the engine and the cycle…


‘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 safety hammer.

The advert above, showing a young girl playing with an Iver Johnson revolver (“accidental discharge impossible”) was somewhat incongruous even then. The ad below is from one of their booklets called ‘Modern Gun-men.’



The restored Iver Johnson in this auction is frame number 368912. 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 had a pretend petrol tank under the crossbar.

Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works: Company History

In 1871 Iver Johnson joined Martin Bye to form the Johnson Bye & Company, merging his own (1841-1895) and Martin Bye’s gunsmithing operations. During this period, Johnson and Bye filed for and received several new firearms features and firearms feature improvement patents. Their primary revenues came from the sale of their self designed and manufactured inexpensive models of revolvers. Not much is known about Martin Bye, as there is very little documented information about his life. However, there is more documented information on Johnson. Iver Johnson is documented as having immigrated to Worcester, Massachusetts from Norway in 1863 at the height of the American Civil War, a time when gunsmithing was a welcome skill in the country. Johnson was a gunsmith by trade at the time, but also worked as an inventor in his spare time, which would come in handy later on as he sought new and creative uses for his partially idle manufacturing equipment, a thought process which would eventually lead him and his heirs to diversify the corporation’s businesses. His early work involved not only gunsmithing locally in Worcester, MA, but it also included providing designs and work to other firearms companies (notable Allen & Wheelock for whom he made so-called “[pepperbox]” pistols). He married Ms. Mary Elizabeth Adams on April 9th, 1868, in Worcester, with whom he had 3 sons and 2 daughters over the next several years.

Little is known of Martin Bye. He and Johnson filed jointly for and were awarded multiple patents together, mostly related to firearms designs, beginning in 1876. The company’s name changed to Iver Johnson & Company in 1883 upon Johnson’s purchase of Bye’s interest in the firm. Bye continued to work in the firearm industry for the remainder of his life.

The company’s name changed again to Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works in 1891, when the company relocated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Fitzburg”) in order to have better and larger manufacturing facilities. The Iver Johnson Complex, as it is known today, resembles other abandoned Industrial Revolution-era properties in New England. As has been the trend, the complex is often a target for real estate developers who intend to exploit its buildings’ industrial brick aesthetics and open floor plans to create retail, residential, or other types of usable space.

Iver Johnson died in 1895, and his sons took over the business. Frederick (born 10/2/1871), John (born 6/26/1876), and Walter (birthdate unknown), had vastly different levels of involvement in the company ranging from executive leadership to barely any involvement at all.
They shepherded the company through a phase of expansion, as bicycle operations grew, then converted to motorcycle manufacturing and sales. They also saw the growth of the firearms business and the eventual restructuring of the company to focus on firearms and related business as they divested non-firearms concerns, such as the motorcycle business, in the face of growing firearms demand, World War I’s armaments industry expansion, and other factors.
As family ownership waned and outside investment via publicly traded stock and mergers/acquisitions/partnerships took hold, the company changed ownership and moved several times during its operation. The company eventually dropped “Cycle Works” from its moniker when that part of the business was shut down.

The business successfully weathered the Great Depression (in part thanks to higher rates of armed robbery crimes, which helped maintain demand for personal firearms) and was buoyed by the dramatic increase in the market for arms leading up to and during World War II.

As a result of changes in ownership, the company had the first of two major relocations in 1971 when it moved to New Jersey. It moved again to Jackson, Arkansas, before it finally ceased trading under its own name in 1993, at which time it was owned by American Military Arms Corp (AMAC).


The Smith Motorwheel

A.O Smith and the Motorwheel: Company History

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 States.

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 Flyer.

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.

smithmotorwheel copy














Iver Johnson Solo

Here are a few shots of the Smithless Iver.







To see the Iver Johnson Catalogue


Published on August 14, 2008 at 9:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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