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Reed Photo Collection: Early 20th Century Motorcycles

Motorcycles have evolved in countless ways since their emergence near the beginning of the 20th century. In the early years of the 20th century, motorcycles and automobiles were competing for the same audience. Most people traveled either on or behind a horse, while the more adventurous were fascinated by those new-fangled bicycle things. So anything with a motor represented a giant step forward.

Take a step back in time with this glimpse into an almost forgotten era of Montgomery County history in the early 20th century… the motorcycle era. These photographs taken by Lewis Reed span a period from roughly the early 1900s up until about the late 1920s.

Lewis Reed on Harley Davidson

Lewis Reed sitting on his Harley Davidson circa 1915 somewhere outside Frederick, Maryland.

Lewis Reed was not only passionate about automobiles, he also enjoyed riding motorcycles. At the turn of the century, before cars were even around, Lewis Reed traveled up and down the East Coast on his motorcycle with his brother, Edgar, and a group of friends. In the early days of motorcycling, propriety dictated that a gentleman be presentable when he went out for a spin, and since tweed suits were the standard countryside uniform of the the late-nineteenth century, so it was for motorcyclists as well. Jodhpurs and full-length boots derived from horseback riding and jackets with a cut consistent with hunting and other kinds of sports were adapted to the new pursuit of motorcycle riding.

early 20th century motorcycle club

Above, Lewis Reed stands with his camera at far left. The photo was taken 1914 in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The wooden frame Victorian-style train station dating from 1889 can be seen in the background.

1922 Montgomery County Police Force

This photograph is the first known photograph of the entire Montgomery County Police Force. Photo taken by Lewis Reed on July 4, 1922.

Montgomery County Mounted Police

By the early 1920’s, the motorcycle had proven itself to be a rugged, reliable, and economical means of transportation. No one benefited from this more than law enforcement agencies. State and local police departments quickly adopted the new machines into their arsenal, allowing patrolmen to more skillfully navigate city streets and venture farther into rural areas.

Posing in front of Reed Brothers Dodge on July 4, 1922 Chief Charles Cooley, center, and his men of the first mounted unit of the Montgomery County Police Force, were on their first day of duty. For several years, since there was no police station, the officers would meet for “roll call” on the steps of the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville at 2:00 p.m. every day to let each other know they were alive and well. Chief Cooley was given the privilege of a Model T Ford. The chief was paid $1,800 a year (the chief now gets $112,564) while the officers got $1,500. Each of the officers was issued a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun, a black jack, law book and was allotted $300.00 a year for the upkeep of their motorcycle.

1914 Ecelcsior Motorcycle

Grafton Reed, Bernie Hanshew, and Lewis Reed (standing)

Have you ever come across a picture that you had to look at twice just to make sure you were not crazy? Well I have… and the photo above is one of them. When I came across this photograph in Lewis Reed’s album, I had to look at it several times to make sure I was not “seeing things”. There is something surprising in this photograph, and when I finally figured out what it was, it put a big smile on my face.

Can you spot the unusual object in this photo?

OK, give up?

It's a Doll!

It’s a Doll!

1914 Indian motorcycle with Sidecar

Edgar Reed in sidecar, ca. 1914. Photo by Lewis Reed

Once motorcycles were established in the marketplace, various accessory items were developed to accommodate a larger audience for the product. The sidecar, a one-wheeled passenger compartment that was attached to the main frame of the motorcycle, was perhaps the most visible accessory. The sidecar expanded the number of passengers that could be driven and also improved the stability of the vehicle.

This is a photograph taken by Lewis Reed of an Indian motorcycle with his brother, Edgar, seated in the sidecar. From what I’ve been able to research, I believe it’s a 1914 Indian. The handle bars on a 1913 had no cross bar, the 1914 model had a cross bar that can be seen on this one. The tool box was mounted on the rear of the carrier in 1913 and moved to the top of the fuel tank in 1914.

1914 Harley Davidson

1914-1915 Harley Davidson. Photo taken on Park Street in Rockville by Lewis Reed

Riders wore gauntlet gloves along with their full-length boots to keep the wind out, as well as provide a little extra skin protection should they go down. A less protective addition to the motorcycling wardrobe was the flat cap.

1915 Fairgrounds Motorcycle Race

A motorcycle racer rips down an unknown racetrack kicking up dust in his wake. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1915

Lewis Reed Captures the Thrill of Motorcycle Racing in 1915

In the first years of the twentieth century, companies like Harley-Davidson and Indian began producing motorcycles for the general public. Although there is not an exact date of the first motorcycle race, you can be sure that as soon as there were two motorcycles on the road, there was racing. As more and more motorcycle manufactures started popping up across the U.S., motorcycle racing started making it’s way to more official venues. The earliest races were held on fairground dirt tracks used for horse racing. On short tracks, typical of county fairs, the most valuable driving technique involved the infamous “pendulum skid,” with riders taking the curves much as automobile drifters do today (but with two wheels fewer, to add to the excitement).

The photograph above taken by Lewis Reed shows an unknown racer at a fairground raceway in the early 1900s. In the teens, motorcycle racing on dirt tracks throughout the country, was one of the most popular spectator sports. Despite the danger to both racers and spectators, the motorcycle races became very popular and drew large crowds of spectators. Motorcycle racing continued until just after World War 1, when the focus shifted to automobile racing.

mother and daughter on excelsior motorcycle

Unknown lady and toddler posing on a 1913-1914 Excelsior motorcycle. Photo by Lewis Reed

Back in the early part of the last century when the motorcycle was still new and a novelty, it was often used for Kodak moments. In the photo above, the toddler’s sporty little cap and goggles make the image. Just imagine how excited she must have been to sit on that big machine. The motorcycle seems to be well equipped with extras including: a headlamp, a handlebar-mounted Klaxon horn, and a well padded passenger seat on the back.

Lady & toddler on Harley Davidson motorcycle

Lady & toddler on Harley Davidson motorcycle. Photo by Lewis Reed, circa 1914

1915 motorcyclists

Motorcyclists in front of Greenawalt Drug Store in Frederick, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed, circa 1915

Things look pretty quiet in front of Greenawalt Drug Store on Market Street in Frederick, Maryland on this day some 100 years ago. In the early days, motorcyclists were more likely to wear a tie and sporty little cap than the leather of today.

1915 Harley Davidson

Lewis Reed is airing up the rear tire of his Harley Davidson with an old-style hand pump, 1915.

Motorcycle repair shops were nearly nonexistent in the early 1900s, so many motorcyclists had to learn to fix their own machines wherever they broke down. Early motorcycles carried a tool box mounted on the rear luggage carrier, or on the top of the fuel tank. Hand air pumps were also carried in case the rider had a flat tire along the way.

early 20th century motorcycles

Repairing a flat tire on the side of the road. Photo by Lewis Reed

If you look closely at this photo, you can see bicycle pedals on the motorcycle. Most early motorcycles were equipped with pedals so that an unlucky rider with a failed engine could still get home. They were also handy for getting a little extra uphill push and for starting the machine.

1915 excelsior motorcycle

Edgar Reed and unknown lady on Excelsior motorcycle. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1914

The early days of motorcycle riding was an expensive joy and pursued mostly by wealthy men. Instead of having a motorcycle as a source of transportation, gentlemen of the days oftentimes used it to spice up their sunny weekends and impress ladies. Outfit relevance dictated a gentleman to be presentable and neat, so when going for a spin, Edgar Reed is wearing a leather jacket, full-length boots, necktie and sporty cap with goggles.

1912 Exclesior motorcycle

Edgar Reed (rider second from left) and Lewis Reed standing behind him (others unidentified). On Park Street in Rockville, ca. 1912

Early motorcyclists were often pictured in riding groups. From its beginnings, motorcycling developed very much as a social activity. Lewis and Edgar Reed, along with brother-in-law Bernard Hanshew, began their riding adventures with a group of friends from the Park Avenue community in Rockville in the early 1900s.

Excelsior motorcycle

Eleanora Reed, and Lewis Reed’s sisters Geneva and Eva posing on Excelsior motorcycles, 1912. (Note they are all sitting “side-saddle” as true ladies of the time would have been expected to do). Photo by Lewis Reed

While women have been enthusiastic bikers ever since motorcycles were invented, they have had to push back against deeply ingrained attitudes. Women in the first half of the 20th century were expected to dress fashionably and conservatively, and above all, remain ladylike. Sitting astride a motorcycle was considered uncouth: the same as riding a horse with a leg on each side.

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1914

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1914

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown

Motorcyclists on Rt 118 in Darnestown, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1914

1914 Excelsior motorcycle

Future biker on the right. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1914

Adventurers, enthusiasts, friends, and family… these are the pioneers of Montgomery County who made riding a social pastime, which has carried on in motorcycle travel today.

Reed Photo Collection Highlight: Early 20th Century Motorcars

Each of the images below from Lewis Reed’s Collection has a car included, whether as a center point of a family photo, in the background of life’s moments, or on a cross-country road trip. These photos give a snapshot not just of the cars at the time, but a peak into an important aspect of the everyday lives of County residents.

There were no paved highways for automobiles to shoot along at 60 and 70 miles an hour; just country roads, filled with ruts, sand, and mud, over which no one wanted to drive at the maximum speed of passenger cars, which was about 30 miles an hour. But every trip was a different adventure.

early automobile

In the early 20th century, traveling cross-country by automobile was intimidating, if not a little bit dangerous. Cars were unreliable and roads were rough. The child in the photo is my mother, Mary Jane Reed Gartner. Photo by Lewis Reed

A cross-country road trip is a quintessentially American experience. It’s always an adventure, but in modern times it’s a relatively tame one: The roads are paved, signs point the way, and Siri always has your back. If cars had cup holders back then, these folks would be rolling with crystal goblets, not Big Gulps.

Come away with me, Lucille: In my merry Oldsmobile: Down the road of life we’ll fly: Automo-bubbling, you and I….

1918 Oldsmobile Roadster

Ethelene Thomas Reed, who married Lewis Reed in 1921, is sitting in passenger seat of a circa 1918 Oldsmobile Club Roadster and her sister, Celeste Thomas Brown, is sitting behind her in the back seat. Photo by Lewis Reed

1918 Oldsmobile

1918 Oldsmobile Roadster shown with Ethelene and her sister Celeste behind the wheel. Photo taken by Lewis Reed at the Clinton Clay Thomas family farm which was located on Butterfly Lane in Braddock, Maryland. Photo by Lewis Reed

Back in the early part of the last century when the automobile was still new and a novelty, it was often used for Kodak moments.

1911 Speedwell Touring

Two ladies posing in a 1911 Speedwell Touring car. Check out the humongous steering wheel! Photo by Lewis Reed

The photographs below was taken by Lewis Reed on one of his many cross country road trips. The car is a 1935 Dodge Touring Sedan with Maryland Dealer license plates. Note the rear-hinged “Suicide Door”. Cars of this era did not have seat belts, so there was nothing to hold a passenger in the car. The term “suicide doors” was therefore placed on vehicles with the rear-hinged door configuration, the theory being that the forward motion of the car could cause the door to fly open, possibly causing the unlucky person sitting next to the door to be pulled out of the car, or the door itself could be ripped from its hinges.

1935 Dodge Touring Sedan

I have no idea what prompted my grandfather to take a photo at this location, but perhaps it was the amazing view in the background. Photo by Lewis Reed

1935 Dodge Touring

Lewis Reed’s 1935 Dodge Touring Sedan. Photo by Lewis Reed

In order for occupants of early 1920’s cars to remain warm during the cold winter months, especially when it was snowing, it was necessary for them to dress warmly and cover themselves with blankets. Note the car in the photo below is mostly open-bodied, with no windows and certainly no heat. Tire chains are on the rear tires. I cannot say with any certainty, but I believe it is Lewis Reed’s car with his wife and baby daughter, Mary Jane, sitting inside all bundled up.

Bear Pits Buffalo Zoo 1920s

Buffalo Zoo Bear Pits, Buffalo, New York, ca. early 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Early motorists weren’t afraid to drive in the snow simply because they didn’t have 4-wheel drive and electronic assistance; they just got out and did it. Who would dare go out in these conditions today without an AWD SUV and heated seats?

old car in snow

Car stopped (stuck?) on snowbound road. Although no tire chains are in evidence, they might have been useful coming up that hill. Photo by Lewis Reed

Nobody really thinks about it today. If your car is too cold, then simply switch on the “heater” and soon your car will be warm. However, it wasn’t always that way. What passengers did back then, in the early days of motoring, was bundle up as if one was outdoors. This meant heavy clothing, winter gloves and snow boots. It wasn’t long, however, before car makers realized that a few comforts, like heat in the passenger compartment, or even some type of heated seating, would help sell cars.

1920 Hudson Six

There weren’t heaters in these old cars, so motorists had to really bundle up. Photo by Lewis Reed

1920 Oldsmobile

Lewis Reed’s 1920 Oldsmobile stopped along Goshen Road outside rural Gaithersburg. Photo by Lewis Reed

In 1900 car owners were almost by definition wealthy, especially since they often employed chauffeurs: many wouldn’t have dreamed of trying to operate their own vehicles. The earliest car owners had no real repair business to turn to. To be a successful motorist in the early 1900s, you needed to have some sort of mechanical skills. Or you had to find someone who did. Wealthy people employed private chauffeur-mechanics to not only drive, but also maintain and repair their large, expensive automobiles — rather than learn to do it themselves. Chauffeurs would be in charge of everything to do with the owner’s motor vehicle including repairs and maintenance and cleaning this meant that early personal chauffeurs had to be skilled mechanics. Pierce-Arrow was one of the most common makers of luxury cars in the early 20th century. The price for one of these vehicles was sometimes as much as ten times the price of a standard touring car.

Lewis Reed chauffeur 1910

Two ladies with parasols are sitting in an early Pierce-Arrow limousine with a rumble seat. Rumble seat passengers were essentially seated out in the elements and received little or no protection from the regular passenger compartment top.

1914 – Chauffeur Lewis Reed (left) is shown with a 1910 – 1911 Pierce-Arrow Model 48 and unidentified family

This photo taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1920s was not picked for its shock value, but for the history it contains of an era long since gone. In the first 10 years of the 1900s, there were no stop signs, traffic lights, lane lines, brake lights, driver’s licenses, or posted speed limits. It was the wild west when it came to driving. Drinking and driving? Not that big a deal. Poorly maintained roads, uneducated drivers, and speeds approaching 40 mph was the perfect combination for some really bad accidents. This photograph sure hits home with just how fragile those early cars were.
old car wreck

Motor carnage. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1920

Early automobiles were unreliable. They broke down frequently and needed to be pulled out of mud or snow by horses. They meant it back in the good old days when motorists were advised to “get a horse”. The photo shows William Beall in his 1915 Pullman in front of old St Mary’s Church and his younger brother Vernon on horseback “towing” him to Reed Brothers.

horses towing old car

Early transportation powered by true “horsepower”. Photo taken by Lewis Reed, 1915

The touring car was one of the most common styles of automobile in the early decades of the 20th century. Nearly every auto manufacturer offered a vehicle in this style. Touring cars generally were denoted by an open body seating four or more people. Identified by the triangle logo on the grill and the number of passengers seated in it, the car below appears to be a 1918 Hudson Super Six Seven Passenger Touring. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1923.

1918 Hudson Super Six Seven Passenger Touring

Anybody for a demonstration drive? Photo by Lewis Reed

Vehicles required much higher road clearances than modern cars due to the poor state of roads and tracks, hence the large diameter skinny tires of the day which were effective at cutting through mud to reach more solid ground.

early 1920s touring car

Early touring car with its top down. The folded top behind passengers was known as the “fan” when in the down position. Photo by Lewis Reed

The popularity of the touring car began to wane in the 1920s when cars with enclosed passenger compartments (i.e. fixed steel roofs) became more affordable, and began to consistently out-sell the open cars.

early 1920s touring car

Early touring car. Photo by Lewis Reed

The touring car body style was popular in the early 20th century, being a larger alternative to the two-seat roadster. The photo below was taken in 1915 by Lewis Reed in front of the original Rockville Garage. Old St Mary’s Church is in the background. Note the unpaved dirt road on Veirs Mill Road. Rockville Garage was a distributor of Fisk Tires until circa 1918, when they replaced it with the Firestone brand. The car appears to be a 1916 Studebaker Roadster. The roadster was a sportier style of vehicle, usually a two-seater with a convertible canopy roof. Many manufacturers offered roadster versions of their larger touring car models.

Fisk Tires

This photo was taken by Lewis Reed across from Reed Brothers Dodge, circa 1915. Old St Mary’s Church is in the background. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Ever want to see how sausage is made? Well, okay – maybe not… but this interesting photo taken by Lewis Reed some 100 plus years ago allows you to see how 18 men managed to cram themselves into a 1910-1911 Pierce Arrow Model 48 7-Passenger Touring. Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company in Buffalo, New York, produced some of the finest automobiles made and was one of the most popular high-quality cars of the time.

Car stuffing

Photo by Lewis Reed

The automobile has affected this country more than any other invention of its time. Without automobiles, life as we know it would not be the same, and the changes that they have brought can be seen in every aspect of our lives.

Lewis Reed Captures the Thrill of Motorcycle Racing in 1915

1915 Fairgrounds Motorcycle Race

A motorcycle racer rips down an unknown racetrack kicking up dust in his wake. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1915

In the first years of the twentieth century, companies like Harley-Davidson and Indian began producing motorcycles for the general public. Although there is not an exact date of the first motorcycle race, you can be sure that as soon as there were two motorcycles on the road, there was racing. As more and more motorcycle manufactures started popping up across the U.S., motorcycle racing started making it’s way to more official venues. The earliest races were held on fairground dirt tracks used for horse racing.

This photograph taken by Lewis Reed shows an unknown racer at a fairground raceway in the early 1900s. In the teens, motorcycle racing on dirt tracks throughout the country, was one of the most popular spectator sports. Despite the danger to both racers and spectators, the motorcycle races became very popular and drew large crowds of spectators. Motorcycle racing continued until just after World War 1, when the focus shifted to automobile racing.

How Old Cars Were Heated

LaidLaw Motor Robes

LaidLaw Motor Robes, The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. December 11, 1923

Nobody really thinks about it today. If your car is too cold, then simply switch on the “heater” and soon your car will be warm. However, it wasn’t always that way. What passengers did back then, in the early days of motoring, was bundle up as if one was outdoors. This meant heavy clothing, winter gloves and snow boots. It wasn’t long, however, before car makers realized that a few comforts, like heat in the passenger compartment, or even some type of heated seating, would help sell cars.

vintage car in snow

Circa 1920 Hudson Six with Maryland Dealer License Plate No. 618 on front. Photo by Lewis Reed

In order for occupants of early 1920’s cars to remain warm during the cold winter months, especially when it was snowing, it was necessary for them to dress warmly and cover themselves with blankets. Note the car in the photo below is mostly open-bodied, with no windows and certainly no heat. Tire chains are on the rear tires. I cannot say with any certainty, but I believe it is Lewis Reed’s car with his wife and baby daughter, Mary Jane, sitting inside all bundled up.

early cars without heaters

Buffalo Zoo Bear Pits, Buffalo, New York, ca. early 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed.

While this had been the accepted way to do things for centuries, it did not take long for automotive engineers to realize that heat from the car engine could also be used to warm the interior of the vehicle. Heaters became standard equipment on the more expensive cars and over time they were fitted to most cars. You could buy and fit after market car heaters to suit cheaper cars like the Fords and Chevrolets.

vintage car in snow

There weren’t heaters in these old cars, so motorists had to really bundle up. Photo by Lewis Reed

Below are some advertisements from an Automotive magazine of 1922 that show the two different ways motorists used to keep warm – the rug and the heater.

LAIDLAW MOTOR ROBES
An essential appointment in your own car. A seasonable gift for a friend.

BEAUTIFUL AND COMFORTABLE
You have your car insured against every possible contingency of accident, fire, theft, etc.,—but how about its occupants– can you guarantee their comfort against winter’s storm and cold?

LAIDLAW MOTOR ROBES are COLD INSURANCE, you pay no premiums on their price, yet you receive protection of warmth, comfort and luxury.

LAIDLAW MOTOR ROBES are made in an infinite variety of color and fabric, lined or not, as you wish. Monogrammed at but slight additional cost. Prices exceptionally low. Quality exceptionally high. Order now for holiday gifts.

Comfortable Driving at Zero!

THE KINGSTON CAR HEATER stands between you and the coldest wind that blows. It is a heater that keeps your car warm at zero weather, that warms the car with pure, fresh air, that can be instantly adjusted to meet your wants, that is beautifully and substantially built — an ornament to any car.

Note the new low price

DEALERS everywhere should order their stock of Kingston Heaters at once. Last year when cold weather came the demand was so great that some orders were delayed. This year, with greatly increased production, with a finer heater, and with the new low price the sales of Kingston Heaters will break all records.

FORD Model Complete $3.75
Chevrolet, Overland, Dodge $5.00

Kingston Car Heater

How “Suicide Doors” Got Their Name

1928 Dodge Brothers Standard Six

Reed Brothers Dodge owned a 1928 Dodge Brothers Standard Six with rear-hinged “Suicide Doors”.

So why are these doors called suicide doors? Did someone commit suicide with one? What’s suicidal about a door?

The theory is that the forward motion of the car could cause the door to fly open, possibly causing the unlucky person sitting next to the door to be pulled out of the car, or the door itself could be ripped from its hinges. It’s debatable as to whether this was speculation or reality, but cars of this era did not have seat belts, so there was nothing to hold a passenger in the car.

Think about it. Imagine trying to open a conventional front door while you’re driving 70 mph. It’s going to be increasingly difficult because of a simple fact of physics: air pressure. The farther you open the door as you’re sailing down the highway, the more air is going to hit the door, forcing it back. Hopefully, the end result is that it never opens far enough for you to fall out.

Now, imagine accidentally unlatching a door that opens the other way. Instead of working to keep the door shut, the road wind serves as an accelerator, helping to fling the door open and maybe you with it as you grab for the handle in a panic to close it. To add insult to injury, you’ll likely be whopped by the door as you fall out. The term “suicide doors” was therefore placed on vehicles with the rear-hinged door configuration, the theory being that anyone inside was on a suicide mission because of the design.

1946 Dodge Deluxe with Suicide Doors

Stock image of a 1946 Dodge Deluxe 4-Door Sedan Fluid Drive with “Suicide Doors”.

Another urban legend about the origins of the suicide doors maintains that 1930s gangsters liked the door design because it made pushing someone out of a moving car easier. If that were true, though, wouldn’t the correct term be “homicide doors”?

Suicide doors were favored in pre-war automobiles throughout the the 1930s. They were fairly common on many domestic and imported car makes in the 1930s. A forward-opening door — either in front or back — permitted easier access and egress — especially for women in long skirts or dresses. Hinging the front door at the rear also facilitated a more slanted windshield.

As a result, manufacturers understandably have tried hard to bury the old “suicide doors” reference. Today, you’ll find such killer names as “RAD” or “rear-access door” (Saturn), “freestyle doors” (Mazda RX-8), “coach doors” (Rolls Royce), “FlexDoors” (Opel), “scissor doors” (Lambo), “clamshell” (Toyota), and “rear-hinged doors” (preferred technical term).

Now, About That Name…
So where did the name “suicide doors” come from, then? You’ll find multiple explanations, none definitive. The fact that no historian can verify the origins of this bit of slang only adds to the mystique.

Source: Wikipedia

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