THE FIRST CHARACTER BIKE: 1928 Shelby Lindy
1928 Shelby Lindy Bicycle
It’s customary, when restoring a bicycle from assembled components, to start with the frame. But I enjoy doing things differently…
So I’ve started this project with a badge and an airplane. The plane in question is a model of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. The bicycle is a 1928 Shelby Lindy. As this is a very rare bike, I’ll build a replica of it. Here’s the story so far…
Spirit of St. Louis
On May 20–21, 1927, Lindbergh, then a 25-year old U.S. Air Mail pilot, had emerged from virtual obscurity to almost instantaneous world fame as the result of his Orteig Prize-winning solo non-stop flight from Roosevelt Field in Garden City on New York’s Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, in the single-seat, single-engine monoplane Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh, an Army reserve officer, was also awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his historic exploit.
A miniature Spirit of St Louis airplane is mounted on the front fender of this model, and its propeller was designed to spin as the rider pedaled along.
As you can imagine, after Lindbergh’s first non-stop solo transatlantic flight, manufacturers inundated him with requests to use his name on their products. The Shelby bicycle was one of the few he accepted.
This Shuco toy Lindy airplane was made in Germany.
The manufacturer of this 1927 Lindy board game was Parker Brothers Inc., Salem, MA
My Friends’ 1928 Shelby Lindy Bicycle
The reason I’m so interested in the 1928 Shelby Lindy is that it was the first in a long line of American ‘character’ bikes, which used the bike to promote a famous figure or icon. Character bikes became a popular line for cycle manufacturers in the USA after WW2, and this style has formed the basis of my American collection. On these pages you can see the 1949 Shelby Donald Duck and 1952 Rollfast Hopalong Cassidy, direct descendants of the Lindy.
The Shelby Lindy was one of the first American bikes to use chrome. Nickel plating was being phased out around this time, and this bike has a mixture of chrome and nickel.
Not many of these bikes were sold from new, and there are probably no more than ten still in existence.
The bicycle you see in these pictures is owned by my friends in the USA, and I’m advertising it for them on my sales website. It’s not cheap! But its pictures have provided me with a useful way to create my own Lindy.
Charles Lindbergh was instrumental in the late twenties and thirties in promoting the growing American commercial aviation industry. The history of flight is part of bicycle history too, as the Wright brothers from Dayton, Ohio designed and built their own bicycles – the Wright Special – before turning their expertise to the airplane. A.W. Gump, who helped start the Shelby company, also came from Dayton, and Shelby was an Ohio business.
SHELBY CYCLE Co
Shelby, Ohio, USA
Shelby Cycle Manufacturing Co started in the boom years of the 1890s. In 1895 the company marketed their Ideal bicycle. The artist impression of their factory, above, is dated 1896. The April 10, 1896 edition of the Shelby Republican newspaper described the new company as follows:
‘In the Shelby Cycle Manufacturing Company, Shelby can boast of not only having Ideal Bicycles made, but also in having an Ideal Factory. The company is controlled by R. Philip Gormully, President; Thos. B. Jeffery, Vice President; and A. W. Gump, Treasurer and General Manager. The above parties have been in the bicycle business upwards of seventeen years, and as they were formerly associated in a business way the venture is not a new one. Possession of the building was taken by The Cycle Co. last September, and already over three hundred hands are employed, and everything is in first class running order with the large out-put daily increasing.’
Gormully & Jeffery were, of course, already bicycle manufacturers of good standing – their company made the upmarket Rambler bicycle. Their experience no doubt allowed the new Shelby Cycle Co to capitalize on increasing consumer demand for cheaper bicycles: it looks to me like the company was established with this particular aim in mind. As you can see above, the Ideal name was more prominent than the new Shelby company name, and Rambler sold bicycles under the Ideal name too.
“Mr. Gump, who had been in the bicycle trade in Dayton for eighteen years previous to coming to this city, had more or less business relations with the Gormully, Jeffery Mfg. Co. and at one of the cycle shows Mr. Gormully stated that if Mr. Gump found a factory his concern would take very largely of the stock, providing a medium grade wheel was manufactured to supply the increasing demand for a cheaper wheel than the Rambler. Shortly after this their present plant was secured and the manufacture of wheels begun. The first year’s output consisted of 10,000 wheels and this large number of bicycles was completely sold out. This year the company has been turning out 100 wheels a day and under pressure is capable of making 200 bicycles every twenty – four hours. The company have on their payroll three hundred and fifty men, an item of much importance to any community whose prosperity is dependent on manufacturing enterprises.”
“The works are divided into eighteen departments as follows: enamelling, wheel building, hub and automatic machinery, frame filing, fork sides, frame building, brazing, tool room, pedals, lathe and machinery, polishing, nickeling, experimenting, assembling, buffing, and shipping, each of which is in charge of a competent foreman.”
“The Shelby Cycle Manufacturing Co., are now making seven different styles of Bicycles. Their No. 1 Ideal, $75.00; their High Frame Ideal, $75.00; a 26 inch Diamond, $50.00; a ladies 28 inch Drop Frame, $75.00; a ladies 26 inch Drop Frame, $50.00; a 28 inch Diamond Frame, $50.00; and a 28 inch ladies wheel, $50.00. The Shelby Cycle Co., will not sell any wheels at retail at all, and all their retail trade will be through the hands of Seltzer & Steele who have the local agency.”
“The first order for the new factory was 1000 bicycles for Mr. Thos Varney, of San Francisco, one of the top retail outlets. The factory was obviously busy day and night: “Railroad passengers and citizens of Shelby note particularly the brilliant display of electric light at the works of the Shelby Cycle Mfg. Co. On dark nights especially do the lights, streaming from the many windows, form a fairy picture of beauty and activity. It is necessary to work an extra force of men all night to meet the demand for Ideal Bicycles.” *