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September 1, 2020

Smith Motor Wheel, a Self-Contained Power Unit Designed for Attachment to a Bicycle From the 1910s

The founder of Smith Precision Products Company, Reuben Stanley Smith, filed seven patents between the years 1914 and 1917 for a device he called a Motor Wheel for Bicycles. The first patent (1,373,918) was filed on August 20, 1914. This occurred when Reuben was the Chief Engineer of the A.O. Smith Corporation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at a time when L.R. Smith was managing the A.O. Smith Corporation. L.R. Smith was Reuben’s first cousin and son of A.O. Smith, the founder of the A.O. Smith Corporation. A.O. Smith passed away in 1913.


The motor wheel was a simple device using a small internal combustion engine (about 1-1/2 hp) to drive a 20-inch wheel with pneumatic tire. The engine/wheel combination was mounted to the left side of the rear tire of just about any type of bicycle and would enable the rider to travel up to 20 mph. The gas tank held one gallon of gasoline, good for about 100 miles.

Roughly 25,000 motor wheels were produced by the A.O. Smith Corporation between the end of 1914 and the middle of 1919 before the manufacturing rights and patents were sold to the Briggs and Stratton Corporation. Briggs and Stratton continued to manufacture the motor wheel under their name for a few more years. Today, both the Smith and Briggs and Stratton motor wheels are collector items. A rather remarkable group of collectors have restored them and continue to find old motor wheel relics in buildings and barns across the country. They are very rare.










One of many advertisements; circa 1915


(via Smith Pumps)




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