Edward Joel Pennington was born in Moore’s Hill, Indiana in 1858. Although he didn’t stay in Indiana for very long, his early years in the state shaped him to automobile and motorcycle fame as well as equal infamy. Prior to moving to other parts of the Midwest and eventually Great Britain, E.J. Pennington first developed his ambitious and amazing skill at social engineering in various small Hoosier towns, where he conned people into investing in dud companies.
Despite his incredibly checkered past, Edward Joel Pennington had a passion for machines, going as far as having more than two dozen patents. He tinkered in engines and devices, even applying for some of the earliest motorcycle and automotive patents in the nation.
In 1893 Pennington submitted two documents detailing his versions of early motorcycles. The most interesting note is the fact that the term “motor cycle” is traced to these documents and exact year. Both documents declared Pennington as the assignor for the “Motor Cycle Company of Chicago.” Although the word originally appeared as a company designation, Pennington also promoted the term to encompass cycles with motors.
He showcased his motorcycle prototypes at various exhibitions in places such as Chicago and New York around 1895 to garner interest for investment opportunities in more dud companies.
It was Pennington’s testing and showcasing of the prototypes around that time in Milwaukee that had caught the eye of William Harley and Arthur Davidson, who would later on found the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company. They weren’t the only ones who were captivated by Pennington’s show of future potential. Henry Ford himself was also taken in by Pennington’s automotive ambitions, going so far as to later create an engine that looked similar to Pennington’s own, but mechanically more sound.
E.J. Pennington’s name was well known in early automotive and motorcycle circles due to his amazing promotional capabilities and often publicized his latest ventures in numerous papers. That fact is incredibly well documented in mechanics, patent, industrial, automobile and bicycle periodicals of its day. Even though his engineering skills were pretty questionable at best- doing what needed to be done in order to make pitches to investors, many marveled and admired his tenacity to be a visionary.
His enthusiasm for motorized vehicles no matter how shoddy his personal skills gave birth to automobiles and motorcycles that we know today. His death in 1911 was reported by dozens of periodicals and even though he was known as a charlatan and a swindler, his contributions to sparking the imagination and ambitions of many in the industry were well received.