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Schwinn 1890's Photgraphs
February 15, 2014 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Schwinn 1890's Lake Street Factory Photographs
posted by Confess, Fletch (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Those mustaches put today's to shame!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:22 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Time travel is possible, but only to the past.
posted by Mblue at 5:23 PM on February 15

While I didn't expect penny-farthings, I didn't expect 1890s bikes to look so modern.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:26 PM on February 15

Yes, a lot of moden looking parts. I kept looking for one fully assembled.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:51 PM on February 15

The safety bicycle dates back to just before then, and was named in contrast to the (utterly terrifying) penny-farthing. The design hasn't changed much since.
posted by asperity at 5:52 PM on February 15

My dad was a toolmaker. In retrospect, I'm amazed that his workplace in the 1970s didn't look all that different to Schwinn's in the 1890s. The machinery was electric rather than steam-powered and belt-driven, but almost everything was a 1:1 equivalent.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:54 PM on February 15

ActingTheGoat: "I didn't expect 1890s bikes to look so modern."

The "safety bike" with diamond-shaped frame and a chain-driven rear wheel has remained almost completely unchanged since it was invented. (It's called a "safety bicycle" because it replaced the penny-farthing or "ordinary bicycle" which, for obvious reasons, was much more dangerous.) It's a pretty elegant engineering design, consisting as it does of essentially little more than two metal triangles – a remarkably simple and economical construction that is also extremely strong.

All the improvements since it was invented have merely been subtle refinements of the details; nobody has ever succeeded at improving on the basic concept, though people have tried from time to time. None of them have really taken off, though some have their followers.

Even the major existing variations, like the mixte and step-through are arguably inferior. They tend not to be as strong or light as a standard safety frame, though they're a bit easier to get on and off of. (Also I happen to be quite partial to the look of mixtes.)

Basically, there's a good reason they look so modern. In its essentials, that design hasn't changed a bit since the year it was invented; it hasn't had to. It is possibly one of the most perfect pieces of engineering ever created.

But yeah, what really struck me was the moustaches. Every one of those guys would be moustache royalty at my local hipster bar. How did they even do it? Those 'staches are as much works of art as the bicycles.

Also, what's with the giant watermarks on all the pictures? It's not as if cyclesmithy owns them, and they're super distracting. The original photos are so washed-out and faint that the watermarks are actually the most visually noticeable feature, and they keep drawing my eyes away from what I'm trying to look at.
posted by Scientist at 6:00 PM on February 15 [13 favorites]

Oh! The simplicity and functionality of modern design is also part of what has allowed bikes to become such commonplace items around the world. Not only does it work great, but anybody with basic metalworking competence and access to even a very rudimentary machine shop can knock one together. Ever noticed how all those boutique framebuilding companies that have sprung up over the last 10-15 years across the US make steel frames? Sure, they may say that they work with steel because steel bikes have more soul or whatever, but it's mostly because steel is way cheaper and easier to work with than aluminum, titanium, or carbon fibre. Steelworking is extremely mature technology and you can get most of the tools needed to do it down at the local Home Depot. Not the case for aluminum, and definitely not the case for carbon. And realistically, a well-made steel bike really is just as good as a well-made aluminum or carbon bike for almost all riders.
posted by Scientist at 6:05 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]

These are really beautiful photos of the Cycle Smithy URL.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:09 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

Apropos of nothing, if you ever visit the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs, Louisiana they have a motorized dicycle out front and if you're lucky the owner will take it out to a nearby field and let you drive it around. It's pretty rad!
posted by Scientist at 6:15 PM on February 15

We must have a world-globe in our office.
posted by ovvl at 7:10 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]

Too bad CYCLESMITHY.COM put WWW.CYCLESMITHY.COM watermarks all over public domain pictures. Ruins the period feel. And copyfraud if they are claiming rights.
posted by stbalbach at 8:51 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

Those are great photos, and yeah I wish they weren't watermarked. I may try to reverse image search them tomorrow to see if they're on the internet somewhere without the watermark.
posted by immlass at 10:28 PM on February 15

I would love to have these pictures without someone’s big fat name across them.
posted by bongo_x at 11:39 PM on February 15

But yeah, what really struck me was the moustaches. Every one of those guys would be moustache royalty at my local hipster bar. How did they even do it? Those 'staches are as much works of art as the bicycles.

They didn't spend as much time watching television or surfing the internet and were able direct that focus towards their mustaches?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:58 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]

I love these old pictures, but this one is going to give me nightmares. Is that Michael Myers in the front?
posted by Literaryhero at 3:57 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

"I say Bob, this fellow in front is a bit hard to see."

"Well, I'm not going to waste time printing it again. Pass me the ink and a fine nib and I'll draw his face in. Nobody will know the difference in a hundred years!"
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:12 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

I love these old pictures, but this one is going to give me nightmares.

You see that a lot in early photographs. The photographer will attempt to scribe-in features that got blown-out in the exposure. It almost always looks disturbing. The better photogs would have used gouache or similar pigment to paint in the face, rather than pen and ink.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:12 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Well I learned something new today. Sweet, thanks Thorzdad.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:35 AM on February 16

The Victorian equivalent of bad Photoshop.
posted by octothorpe at 6:19 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

Haha. Literaryhero. I thought the same thing with this photo look's like Tobey Maguire. Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil (1999) showed Maguire convincingly in this period must be influencing me too.
posted by xtian at 7:47 AM on February 16

Oh I do love pictures of a whole room full of belt driven machines, running off an overhead shaft. State of the art at the turn of the century. I particularly enjoyed this pic, all the machines are arranged in parallel with the driving shaft, except the one on the right, which has a twisted belt running through an oblique pulley.

I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the efficiency of a factory full of mechanically linked machines running from a single power source vs. individual electric motors.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:29 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Yeah, belt-driven machines are really neat. And since the pulleys that were used were generally convex, the belts were self-centering and didn't need to be particularly tight. You'd think that all those spinning belts would be a recipe for rampant industrial accidents, but actually you could generally run your hand right through between the belt and a pulley without coming to any harm. It's a really elegant system, given the technology of the time, for distributing mechanical power.

And hey, here's a cool video of a tri-generational machine shop that still uses belt-driven machines.
posted by Scientist at 1:01 PM on February 16

I bet those belts can be dangerous. They don't go very fast, but there's enough torque there to mess you up if you walked into one by accident.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:01 PM on February 16

Hell yeah belt drives are incredibly dangerous. People got their hands and arms ripped off all the time. A good belt system would probably have a safety cage around it, but that would make it more difficult to repair and replace belts (which were consumables). And that defeats one of the whole advantages of the system, it's easily reconfigurable and you can add new machines easily.

Anyway, for more details on belt drives, I often recommend one of my favorite books, viewable in full via Google Books: Principles of Mechanism by Robert Willis, M.A., F.R.S., &c. Cambridge University Press MDCCCXLI (1841)

I particularly recommend Chapter IV - Elementary Combinations - Class A {Directional Relation Constant. Velocity Ratio Constant.} Division C. Communication of Motion by Wrapping Connectors, starting on p. 168.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:30 PM on February 16

What a treasure! I was recently given a copy of the diary a distant cousin wrote on his bicycle trip from Beloit WI to Canaseraga NY (and back) in 1896.

This gives me a great idea of the era and bicycling.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:14 PM on February 16

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