The history of technological development has unearthed many good ideas which seemingly tick all the boxes for commercial success, but just don't make it. The Eveready Autoped is one such device – it was the world's first scooter, manufactured in New York from 1915 to 1921. It sold for just US$100, offering 125 mpg (1.9 l/100km) transportation at 25 mph (40 km/h). It was perhaps too far ahead of its time, but it remains one of the most significant transportation devices in history ... and there's one about to be auctioned.
One of the Autoped's key features was its ability to fold away, and despite this convenience, it seems that living and parking space in New York was not at quite the same premium that it is 100 years later, because sales did not achieve their targets and Autoped production ceased in 1921. In Europe there was greater acceptance and the Autoped was manufactured by the giant Krupp company in Germany under license from 1919 to 1922.
Given its place in history as the first scooter, the Autoped is seemingly disregarded by established motorcycle collectors, and though very few have ever reached the auction block, those that have don't fetch prices in line with the scooter's place in history.
The highest price we can find one to have ever sold for at auction is just $13,750 (above – the buyer paid a buyer's premium on top of the hammer price of $12,500), which was achieved by Mecum at the January Las Vegas auctions earlier this year.
The only other Autoped we can find having surfaced at auction is a basketcase (above) which sold for £805 ($1,608) at a Bonhams London sale in 2007.
Now there's another Autoped for sale at Bonham's Autumn Stafford sale next week (above), and though in need of restoration, it appears all there and ready to be returned to its former glory as a machine of significant historical gravitas. The punchline is that the official estimated price on the historic machine is just $1,000 to $1,500, meaning that one of the most significant two-wheelers in history might potentially be going very cheap.
No, it doesn't have the hairy-chested top speeds of the auction's highest priced motorcycle, a 1924 Croft-Cameron 996CC Super Eight, which is expected to fetch between $210,000 and $260,000, but it is an absolutely authentic specimen of the original scooter which spawned the most common form of two-wheeled personal transport on planet Earth to this day.
Roughly 75 percent of the world's most valuable collectible motorcycles are large capacity v-twins, but there are still exceptions for items of significance or exceptional provenance, such as the Cushman Airborne Scooter which sold for €142,600 ($159,101) last week to become one of the 100 most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction.
The Autoped was seemingly well publicized in its day, and contracts were gained with the US Postal Service as a delivery vehicle and police forces as a patrol vehicle. It clearly performed its tasks as advertised, as this was a significant public expenditure.
The above advertisement shows that sales agencies were offered for the brand but beyond the police and mail contracts, it's not known how many were produced or how widely distribution developed in the United States.
The idea certainly got some significant international support when the German industrial giant Krupp licensed and produced the design for several years. Krupp offered the Autoped with an optional seat, pictured above.
The Eveready Autoped is the grandfather of all motorscooters with its DNA evident in the Italian (Vespa and Lambretta) scooter craze of the 60s and Honda's rise to number one motorcycle manufacturer in the 70s. To this day, there are many more scooters than motorcycles sold globally, and Honda always has sold more scooters than motorcycles by a fair margin. Interestingly, much of the Autoped's marketing focussed on women, which the above three and below two advertising images from the period illustrate.
What we found particularly interesting was that a lot of the marketing images remaining from the Autoped's brief effort to capture attention in the media landscape of the time are quite similar to the imagery which propelled the scooter to prominence half a century later.
The above screen capture from Google images underlines just how much women were the focus of Italian motorscooter advertising in the 1960s, and how similar the imagery is to that of the Autoped, adjusting for the morals of the period, from the Roaring 20s to the liberated 60s.
What's more, the engineering behind the Autoped is both sound and innovative, and the patent for the Autoped can still be seen today and the name on the patent is a strong clue to the importance of the machine – Arthur Hugo Cecil Gibson.
Follow that link to the United States Patent Office and you'll find a number of quite diverse patents for a diverse range of mechanical inventions including a water-cooled, 90 degree v-twin (sound familiar?) engine for aviation work and "other purposes where minimum weight is desired."
The engine has three valves (two intakes), fuel injection ("liquid hydrocarbon introduced through a spray nozzle"), oil cooler ("refrigerator"), and a pressurized crankcase that assisted through a series of valves with introducing extra air during the intake stroke and the exhaust for scavenging, and the piston in the four-stroke engine is stepped to also act as a pump or compressor piston. That's pretty impressive considering Gibson applied for this patent in 1909. The Old Motor has images of the engine which Gibson constructed.
At the same time as the Autoped was being released, Gibson produced the Mon-Auto transportation device under his own name, with the miniature motorcycle the first incarnation of the modern day Monkey bike, and its most recent coming in the form of the extraordinarily awesome Honda MSX.
There are very few images of the Mon-Auto to have survived, but the patent for the bike clearly outlines the key functionality, just as this advert in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette indicates Gibson's hopes to build a company around the bike.
The 25 mph Mon-Auto weighed 50 lb (23 kg) but could carry 300 lb (136 kg) and it was just 48 inches (1,219 mm) long and 18 inches (457 mm) tall. As another patent drawing (below) suggests, Gibson had plans to fully enclose the bike. If it's not obvious yet that Gibson was a man of great foresight, then please withhold your judgement until we can fully research the topic.
We have yet to find any images of Arthur Hugo Cecil Gibson, but we're going to pursue this story because it appears quite likely that his inventions have influenced the evolution of transport design, perhaps much more significantly than he's been given credit for.