Vintage Bicycles. Modern Style.
The Story of Columbia Bicycles
In 1877 Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Augustus Pope founded the Pope Manufacturing Co. in Boston, Massachusetts.
In January of the next year, Pope Manufacturing began importing bicycles from England with the first advertising efforts being made during March of the same year.
Later that year Pope approached the Weed Sewing Machine Co. about building bicycles and only a few months later the first bicycles, a replica of an English bicycle, began production in Hartford, Connecticut.
By 1894, the main offices are consolidated in Hartford and on March 12th of that year, a massive fire destroys the old offices, warehouses and a riding school at Pope Manufacturing Co. in Boston.
While most of the records and many of the bikes are lost to the fire, Pope manages to rebuild new, bigger facilities in Boston.
Between the years of 1897 and 1904 Pope Manufacturing Co. and a host of other bicycles manufacturers come together to form American Bicycle Company which ultimately fails, followed by a series of reorganizing and buying out of the other bicycle companies.
From 1905 to 1913, the Pope Manufacturing Co. consolidates its manufacturing to the plant in Westfield, Massachusetts while the main offices remain in Hartford, Connecticut.
In the year 1909, Colonel Albert Augustus Pope, the founder of Pope Manufacturing Co., dies at the age of 66 years.
In 1914, the main office of Pope Manufacturing are relocated to Westfield and in 1915 the Pope Manufacturing Co. files for bankruptcy. The company is reorganized once again and renamed, The Westfield Manufacturing Company, the “successors to the Pope Manufacturing Company.”
By 1933, Westfield Manufacturing becomes a subsidiary of The Torrington Company out of Torrington, Connecticut and in 1952 Westfield begins production on a line of steel school furniture in an attempt to augment sales during the off-season of bicycle sales.
In 1960 an independent corporation is formed and by 1961 the company is once again renamed the Columbia Manufacturing Company only to file bankruptcy again in 1991. Ny 1993, though, Columbia emerges from bankruptcy and limited bicycle production is resumed.
A reproduction of the 1941 Columbia Superb is produced at the Westfield plant and Columbia badged imported bicycles are sold as well. The focus of business for Columbia Manufacturing is pushed into a complete line of School and Institutional furniture.
By the year 2008, several of the buildings that used to house to original factories in Westfield are torn down, including the main building that resided on Cycle Street and the building that housed the museum.
Throughout all of the bankruptcies and name changes, Columbia has never ceased production for long periods and the company that exists today is a direct descendant of the original Pope Manufacturing Co.
The Evolution of Columbia Bicycles
1878 The first Columbia bicycles are manufactured in Hartford, MA. The High Wheeler was the first bicycle off the assembly line.
1892 The Columbia Century model debuts,
being the first bicycle with pneumatic tires to be produced by Columbia, bringing comfortable cycling to the masses. Previously, all bicycles had solid tires and were designed with different sized wheels and higher, stand-over geometry.
1898 Columbia premiers their first chainless shaft drive bicycles. Though more expensive, they were cleaner to ride and easier to maintain than a chain driven bike of the era. These would become very popular with innovations that would return later on for modern bikes.
1916 The Pope Manufacturing Co. is reorganized as The Westfield Mfg Co. and contributes greatly to the war effort, manufacturing bikes for the troops and even munitions.
1942 The Westfield Mfg Co. secures a contract with the US Military to produce men’s and women’s bikes for the war effort. Westfield earned the coveted Army-Navy ‘E’ Award for Product Achievement and is featured on the cover of life magazine.
1950 Columbia releases the News Boy Special. This heavy duty balloon tire bicycle would be made for 25 years and would lead to the development of both mountain bikes and the modern beach cruiser.
1952 Columbia begins to produce school furniture using much of the same machinery and employee skills as bicycles in an effort to keep the factory running during the bicycle off season. They also released the 1952 Jet Rider bicycle.
1970 Era Columbia shifts focus as the bicycle industry moves toward the massively popular 10-speed “English Racer” style of bikes. These models would evolve into the Road racing and Hybrid 700c bikes that are popular today.
1980 Era Columbia designs and produces the famous RX-5 replica of the 1952 5-Star Superb as well as the 1941 Superb, parking interest in antique bicycles and the modern replica trend.
2015 The Columbia Bicycles brand undergoes significant redevelopment and re-launches with updated releases of the 1937 and 1952 models, followed by a complete new line of Vintage, Modern Retro, Comfort and City bicycles.