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US president caught speeding by bicycle cops

President Roosevelt

In June 1905, a car carrying US president Theodore Roosevelt was stopped for speeding, by two policemen on bicycles. The car was a Columbia, made by the same company that, in 1877, had brought the first high wheel bicycle to America, the bicycle company which created and sponsored the Good Roads movement, a campaign for better highways inspired by Britain’s Roads Improvement Association, an organisation created in 1885 by the National Cyclists’ Union and the Cyclists’ Touring Club.

Before he became US president, Teddy Roosevelt was the police commissioner for New York City. One of his edicts set up a police bicycle unit. The “scorcher squad” was a 29-member patrol team created to catch speeding vehicles (originally horse-drawn carriages and ‘scorcher’ bicyclists but later motor cars, too).

Columbia was the house-brand of America’s then most powerful and successful bicycle firm, the Pope Manufacturing Company. This innovative manufacturer used the sort of interchangeable parts technology and mass production factory techniques that would be later copied by Detroit’s most famous cyclist, Henry Ford (he also made cars).

albert popeThe Pope Manufacturing Company was founded, owned and run by ruthless monopolist and ardent bicyclist Colonel Albert Pope. Pope Manufacturing was sprawled over five huge factories in Hartford, Connecticut (there were two bicycle factories, a tyre plant, a mill for drawing lightweight steel tubing and, from 1897, an automobile factory). As well as producing Columbia bicycles, Pope Manufacturing created some of America’s first electric cars.

However, the Columbia car that President Roosevelt was caught speeding in (he was a passenger) was an early gasoline car. Roosevelt had another connection with Albert Pope’s bicycle and car conglomerate. On August 22nd 1902 Roosevelt was the first US president to be seen in public in a motorcar. In effect, this was the first ever presidential motorcade. It took place in Pope’s home town of Hartford, Connecticut. A report in the New York Times said President Roosevelt was greeted by “10,000 workingmen.” As this greeting took place in Pope Park (a recreational lung created by Albert Pope for his workers, designed by the same firm that laid out New York’s Central park), it’s likely as many as 2000 of the men in this rent-a-crowd had been provided by Pope Manufacturing. The next biggest company in town was gun and precision tool maker Pratt and Whitney, which went on to become the famous aeronautics manufacturer. At the time Pratt and Witney made, among many other things, bicycle parts manufacturing machines.

Below is a photo showing the first presidential motorcade (first open-top one, to boot). The car is a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. Roosevelt is on the left. On the right is Colonel Jacob Greene, chairman of Hartford citizen’s committee. Note the chauffeurs at the back: one of them is steering with a tiller. The car is flanked by policemen on bicycles. Columbia bicycles. Notice anything missing? Chains. The bicycles are shaft-drive models. Pope was banking on shaft-drives to take-off big-time. They didn’t. Pope was also banking on electric cars to take off-big time. They didn’t either. Not every Pope is infallible.



Below are the period sources for the facts above. I’m including them almost whole because they provide more details and are deliciously of the time. I particularly like the fact the bike cops put up a “stern chase” of the President’s speeding car and eventually rode past it. This probably says more about the speed potential of cars in 1905 than the athletic prowess of the police officers (25mph bike cops?) The sand in the policeman’s eyes after the chase shows that country roads were covered with macadam at best, i.e. small crushed stones. And the chauffeur’s excuse for speeding is pure gold.

President RooseveltTHE PRESIDENT HELD UP

Stopped by Bicycle Policemen for Exceeding Speed in Hired Car

The Automobile

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22.- President Roosevelt is becoming a very enthusiastic automobilist, and, while he does not own a car, there is not the slightest doubt that he would buy one were he not afraid advertising capital will be made out of his purchase. This being the case he contents himself with occasionally hiring a car from one of the local garages for a spin into the country. Last Sunday a telephone message was received at the garage of the Washington Electric Vehicle Transportation Co. to send a car to the White House for the President’s use that afternoon. A Columbia gasoline car was furnished, with Otto Jacobi as chauffeur.

It was on this trip that the President experienced one of those occasions that frequently confront motorists. When well out of the city Jacobi let the car out a bit and the distinguished occupants were enjoying keenly the rush of air caused by the swiftly moving car, when two of the detail of bicycle police that had been stationed on Conduit road to restrain motorists from violating the speed regulations fell in behind the President’s car and endeavoured to overtake the party. After a stern chase they were successful, and they called upon the President and his chauffeur to stop.

“You will have to meet me in the police court at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning,” said one of the policemen, as he rubbed the sand out of his eyes. Apparently he was addressing the operator of the car, but a man…dressed in khaki riding breeches, a colored shirt, heavy walking shoes and a slouch hat, made the response.

“For what reason?” he inquired.

“You have violated the speed regulations,” continued the policeman. “You were going at least twenty-five miles an hour, and the regulations allow but fifteen miles.”

When informed that he was addressing the President the officer collapsed. However, the President took the matter good naturedly, and cautioning the chauffeur to drive at slower speed, the party proceeded to Great Falls…

It has since transpired that Jacobi, the chauffeur, thought the pursuing policemen were secret service men detailed to guard the President on his ride, and only wanted to make them ride a little faster than they are accustomed to.


New England Welcomes President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt began his tour of New England today amid scenes of remarkable enthusiasm…On his arrival at Hartford the President was welcomed by a committee of representative citizens, and then taken for a drive around the city, occupying, with Col. Jacob L. Greene, a handsome victoria automobile, in charge of two expert New York chauffeurs. He was enthusiastically cheered all along the route.

The President expressed his satisfaction at the substitution of drives for conventional handshaking. This method of entertainment seems to have given the people the opportunity desired of seeing him.

In Pope Park, one of the beautiful outlying recreation spots of the city, the President was greeted by 10,000 workingmen, who presented him with a magnificent floral horseshoe inscribed: “Workmen’s Welcome to Our President.”

New York Times, August 22nd 1902



Origin of the Bicycle Squad

From Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography

The members of the bicycle squad, which was established shortly after we took office, soon grew to show not only extraordinary proficiency on the wheel, but extraordinary daring. They frequently stopped runaways, wheeling alongside of them, and grasping the horses while going at full speed; and, what was even more remarkable, they managed not only to overtake but to jump into the vehicle and capture, on two or three different occasions, men who were guilty of reckless driving, and who fought violently in resisting arrest. They were picked men, being young and active, and any feat of daring which could be accomplished on the wheel they were certain to accomplish.

Three of the best riders of the bicycle squad, whose names and records happen to occur to me, were men of the three ethnic strains most strongly represented in the New York police force, being respectively of native American, German, and Irish parentage.

The German was a man of enormous power, and he was able to stop each of the many runaways he tackled without losing his wheel. Choosing his time, he would get alongside the horse and seize the bit in his left hand, keeping his right on the crossbar of the wheel. By degrees he then got the animal under control. He never failed to stop it, and he never lost his wheel. He also never failed to overtake any “scorcher,” although many of these were professional riders who deliberately violated the law to see if they could not get away from him; for the wheelmen soon get to know the officers whose beats they cross.

The Yankee, though a tall, powerful man and a very good rider, scarcely came up to the German in either respect; he possessed exceptional ability, however, as well as exceptional nerve and coolness, and he also won his promotion. He stopped about as many runaways; but when the horse was really panic-stricken he usually had to turn his wheel loose, getting a firm grip on the horse’s reins and then kicking his wheel so that it would fall out of the way of injury from the wagon. On one occasion he had a fight with a drunken and reckless driver who was urging to top speed a spirited horse. He first got hold of the horse, whereupon the driver lashed both him and the beast, and the animal, already mad with terror, could not be stopped. The officer had of course kicked away his wheel at the beginning, and after being dragged along for some distance he let go the beast and made a grab at the wagon. The driver hit him with his whip, but he managed to get in, and after a vigorous tussle overcame his man, and disposed of him by getting him down and sitting on him. This left his hands free for the reins. By degrees he got the horse under control, and drove the wagon round to the station-house, still sitting on his victim. “I jounced up and down on him to keep him quiet when he turned ugly,” he remarked to me parenthetically. Having disposed of the wagon, he took the man round to the court, and on the way the prisoner suddenly sprang on him and tried to throttle him. Convinced at last that patience had ceased to be a virtue, he quieted his assailant with a smash on the head that took all the fight out of him until he was brought before the judge and fined. Like the other “bicycle cops,” this officer made a number of arrests of criminals, such as thieves, highwaymen, and the like, in addition to his natural prey — scorchers, runaways, and reckless drivers.

The third member of the trio, a tall, sinewy man with flaming red hair, which rather added to the terror he inspired in evil-doers, was usually stationed in a tough part of the city, where there was a tendency to crimes of violence, and incidentally an occasional desire to harass wheelmen. The officer was as good off his wheel as on it, and he speedily established perfect order on his beat, being always willing to “take chances” in getting his man. He was no respecter of persons, and when it became his duty to arrest a wealthy man for persistently refusing to have his carriage lamps lighted after nightfall, he brought him in with the same indifference that he displayed in arresting a street-corner tough who had thrown a brick at a wheelman.


1892PopeManufacturingPope Manufacturing Company

Hartford Board of Trade, 1889

Hartford, Conn., as a manufacturing, business and commercial center; with brief sketches of its history, attractions, leading industries, and institutions

[Weed Machinery’s] reputation for fine and durable work [making sewing machines], its large plant and efficient corps of native American mechanics, brought to the establishment and to Hartford, in 1878, a new industry which, in magnitude and importance, overshades the production of sewing-machines, large as this continues to be. When, in May of that year, Col. A. A. Pope rode circuitously from the station to the office of the company on a bicycle of English make, excited throngs swarmed into the streets through which he passed to catch a view of the strange vehicle. Hundreds of boys took up the line of pursuit, only to find themselves in a few minutes left hopelessly behind. As the Colonel disappeared through the door, the surprise and curiosity were transferred from the outside to the inside of the factory. The object of the visit was not only to place a preliminary order, but to arrange for the manufacture of similar machines on a large scale. The interview, with the business connections growing out of it, have proved eminently satisfactory to both parties.

The first lot of fifty bicycles was turned out [by] Sept. 17, 1878. From that time onward the output, yearly increasing, has amounted to many thousands, and the line has been extended to tricycles, “safeties,” and “tandems.” A very large proportion of the machinery used in the manufacture has been invented by men belonging to the establishment, and is made on the premises. Many knotty mechanical problems have temporarily interrupted the onward flow of development, but the ingenuity of officers and men has proved adequate to their solution.

From their utility as a means of quick and pleasant travel, these machines and their accessories, little known ten years ago, and popularly regarded as a curious but idle toy, have become the staple of a very large trade. Among the different styles on the market, the “Columbias” steadily hold the lead through unequaled excellence of design and workmanship, not less than through the enterprise of the separate company which promotes their use and sale.

Struck, while passing through the factory, by the elaborate care taken to adjust the axis of the wheel so that it should coincide exactly with the mathematical center, the writer inquired of president Day in reference to the advantages gained by this extreme, not to say costly, precision. He replied that a slight deviation from accuracy might pass unnoticed for years, but in time would certainly appear and shorten the life of the machine. To the intelligent and scrupulous care bestowed upon the minutest details of construction, the company largely owes its reputation and present prosperity. Wherever tried, at home, on the racing path, or on continental journeys, their work never disappoints the owner.

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