By Larry Horton
Going through some old papers from days gone by and found an envelope with advertising for bicycles that had been sent to local banker J.D.Covey 120 years ago.
Eastern Wheel Works was a direct shipper from factory to consumer located in Washington, New Jersey.
Ok, look at the features of Model A – what catches your eye? The wheel rims are mahogany finished. The highest price features the most color choices too. I’d love to see a new one today.
They offered three styles of bicycles and more importantly for women riders also. By the 1890’s bicycles were becoming a mode of transportation instead of a fad. The invention and use of pneumatic tires made them comfortable enough for anyone to ride.
The crazy thing is, nowadays folks ride bikes that cost many thousands of dollars. In 1897 they did too; the model A price at today’s rate would be $2054. Model B would be $2328. And model C would be $2738!
Remember, the standard work week in the US in the 1890’s was 60 hours. An average occupation, say a blacksmith, made 27 cents an hour or roughly $16 a week. Laborers made 16 cents and hour while a good carpenter could make upwards of 32 cents an hour!
Obviously, these contraptions were made for the rich. Eastern Wheel works was out of business by 1898 and no wonder considering how hard it must have been to be a small company compared to the famous Columbia Bicycle Works and American Bicycle. Additionally, although there was a “Bike Craze” in the 1890’s, the US had a severe economic depression in 1896 which impacted many of the small companies and forced them to close.
Although this info isn’t necessarily Bentonville oriented, but I think our bike loving readers will find it interesting. You can bet there were few bikes in Bentonville in the 1890’s due to cost and the fact that our streets were dirt for many years. As for the cost, a Studebaker Road Wagon, which was a buggy, had two rows of seats and only cost $37 in 1902. J.L. Mead Cycle Co. in Chicago was selling bikes for between $7 and $15. It’s a wonder Eastern sold any bikes at all!