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National Cycle Manufacturing Co. (1892-1916)
Woodside Ave., Bay City, MI.

Added June 2008.

Bay City Illustrated, by The Board of Trade,
Published 1898, Gregory Printing Company.


There is no institution in its corporate limits of which Bay Cityans are prouder than the National Cycle factory. Nearly every city of any consequences in the country has its cycle factory, but few equal the Bay City plant in the quality of work turned out. When the wheel craze swept over the country, several years ago, Bay City was affected. Realizing that the wheel had come to stay, Henry B. Smith, of the Michigan Pipe Company, consulted with several other gentlemen about the matter, and they reached the conclusion that a bicycle factory would be a good source of revenue. Accordingly the National Cycle Manufacturing Company was formed, with Mr. Smith as president. A large factory was constructed and equipped with machinery for turning out up-to-date wheels. It was the determination of the projectors to make a wheel that should win for itself a reputation from the start, and that they succeeded is demonstrated by the rapid rise in popular favor the National. The factory has been kept abreast of the times in the matter of machinery, and every device calculated to improve the wheels is added as soon as its utility is established.

To-day the National is a standard wheel, recognized by the crack riders as one of the very best in the market. Many world’s records have been broken by National riders, and its fame has not only spread all over the United States, but to other countries, and the National is now known wherever wheels are used. It is the proud boast of the company that a National rider never changes his mount, and this is borne out by the steady volumes of praise that are poured in from those who have the good fortune to take a spin on one of these silent steeds.

Added June 2008.

The Bay County Story, from Footpaths to Freeways, 1982, Leslie E. Arndt.

The National Cycle Manufacturing Co.

(Excerpt Page 245 - 247)

The bicycle craze which again is sweeping the country resurrects memories of the old National Cycle Manufacturing Co. on the site today occupied by Chevrolet-Bay City Division, GMC. Historians recall it was "the greatest bikemaker in the nation," in its time.

The "safety" bicycle with pneumatic tires was beginning to supersede the old high-wheeled bike when the firm started operations here in 1892, continuing almost 20 years.

With the arrival of the "horseless carriage," or "gas-buggy," as the automobile was known before developers agreed to a name for it, the National bicycle works gradually drifted into manufacturing the Natco motor truck. In 1916, the plant was purchased by the Chevrolet Motor Co. Organizers of the bicycle firm were F. C. Finkenstaedt and Henry B. Smith.

It was the National bicycle that put Bay City "on the map." In the firms heyday, shipments were made to every state and riders even in foriegn countries asked for the bicyle with the winning slogan: "A National Rider Never Changes His Mount."

Tierney's "Big Bicycle Store" at Fifth and Saginaw at the turn of the century advertised it was "doing business until midnight every day during the wheeling months." About 100 "wheels" were kept for rentals. Biking was very popular then.

Wilbert H. Gustin, as managing editor of The Bay City Times, had special permission from the railroad to ride his bicycle on the tracts to and from Bay City, while he and his family spent the summer at Linwood Beach.

History of bicycle works here goes back to a two-story red frame building with a one-story sales room and office at Crotty and Madison in 1892. The plant produced several hundred bicycles a year starting out. By 1896 ample sprockets and tires were ordered to assemble 5,000 "wheels." Business boomed and in 1909 a second line, parts for Packard and Studebaker automobiles, was added, necessitating an expansion program. Down came the old plant and a three-story building replaced it. The next year an office building was added.

By 1909 the bicycle output climbed to more than 1,000 per year. The payroll jumped to almost 500. A portion of each year's compensation for workers was given in a new mount. Considering that prices averaged $125 (the cheapest was $50) while wages were 30 to 35 cents per hour, it was a welcome gift. Bay Cityans William A. Storrs, Otto Toeppner, Jud Freeman and Frank Hagaman proved endurance of the "National mount" by pedaling to Niagara Falls (through Canada) and back (via Cleveland) in 1898 with total time 11 days. Clubs of National riders sprang up across the country. A historian said "many world's records were broken by National riders in bicycle races across the nation as well as around the world."

But as the interest grew, another wing was built to the National bike works here for production of the ill-fated Natco. By 1913 the first Natco, a chain-driven truck, came off the assembly line. But this venture failed. Fewer than 25 were built when the company washed its hands of the deal and decided to stick with bicycles and parts for autos.

By 1916 the automobile was here to stay and popularity of bicycles had declined. Five years earlier, Louis Chevrolet and W. C. Durant made their pitch in the auto industry with the Chevrolet Motor Co. The company needed a parts plant. The National Cycle buildings here in 1916 became available, an agreement was reached, and an auto plant came to Bay City. Leftover National bicycles, tools and patents were sold "lock, stock and barrel" to a Chicago machine works.

1916 - Chevrolet. (Added Oct., 2008)

The Automobile Vol. XXXIV (1916)
Published by The Class Journal Co., N.Y.

Chevrolet Takes Cycle Co. Capacity.

New York City, April 1. -- The Chevrolet Motor Co. has entered into an arrangement with the National cycle & Mfg. Co., Bay City, Mich., to control its capacity for an indefinite period. The National cycle & Mfg. Co. owns two plants, covering 5-1/2 acres, is equipped to build motors and parts and employs from 1500 to 2000 men.

Related Pages & Notes

National Tandem Rider.

Rare bike on exhibit at the Bay County Historical Society Museum.
Click image to enlarge.
Henry B. Smith
Mr. Smith was married on Feb. 24, 1881, to Mary Sophia Hill.
Related Pages:
Hill, Charles H. employee
Michigan Pipe Co.
People Referenced
Chevrolet, Louis
Durant, W.C.
Finkenstaedt, F.C.
Freeman, Jud
Hagaman, Frank
Gustin, Wilbert H.
Smith, Henry B.
Storrs, Wm. A.
Toeppner, Otto
Subjects Referenced
Bay City, MI
Chevrolet Motor Co.
chicago machine works
Cleveland, OH
Linwood Beach, MI
Michigan Pipe Co.
National Cycle Mfg. Co.
Natco motor truck
Niagra Falls, NY
Packard automobile
Studebaker automobile
The Bay City Times
Tierney's Bicycle Store
Related Images

Original Building.

Building Expanded.

Expansion on right.

Building as Natco.
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.