Half a year prior to Indian’s entry into the motorcycle world, there was an Indianapolis machine that already had a head start into the motorcycle revolution that was to come. The Patee Motor Cycle*. The machines were already in production and being sold throughout the US with extensive advertising running in periodicals such as Scientific American. It was only one of very select few mass manufactured motorcycles at the literal turn of the century.
January 1901: Short article/ad on the Patee Motor Cycle.
March 1901 advertisement: As you can see from the pricing differences, Indian was producing bicycles at this time.
Patee Bicycle Company officially came into being in 1897 and formally recognized in 1899, however its existence had earlier beginnings. Fredrick Patee, the founder, had a long history with bicycles and in 1895 left his job as secretary of Indiana Bicycle Company to start his own company. After leaving, he soon became a manager to Peoria Rubber and Mfg Co. in Illinois which had recently organized in 1896, where the first Patee Bicycle came to be. Although Fred Patee eventually left after a year with the Peoria Rubber & Mfg Co. to officially start Patee Bicycle Company, the bicycles were still being produced by Peoria Rubber.
The next two years would see the production of Patee bicycles and Fredrick Patee eventually embroiled in personal issues of a dark nature.
February 1901: A trade journal article about the Patee Motor Cycle.
1901 Indianapolis newspaper ad.
Sometime in 1900, Fredrick Patee returned to Indianapolis after purchasing the Hay and Willits Outing bicycle plant, Munger Cycle Company plant and JD Morris of Rochester NY. However the sales weren’t finalized and reported until the start of 1901. In January of 1901 Fred Patee made announcements in various bicycle periodicals that the Patee Motor Cycles would be sold starting February for $200. Various magazines and newspapers show advertisements being run throughout the year. Not only that, but in May 1901, the patent for the Patee Motor Cycle was officially filed with the US Patent office.
May 1901: Patee Motor Cycle patent.
In the same time frame, Fred Patee and Joshua Morris, the man who created the motors for the motorcycles also created a tandem motorcycle and showcased it in a bicycle magazine. Around June, the Patee Motor Cycle performed in a handicapped race at the famous Newby Oval, the predecessor to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though things seemed to be going well for the bicycle/motor cycle company, things were quick to take a turn. Despite the fact that orders were pouring in for the Patee Motor Cycle, the company was struggling financially. It was revealed in July that Fred Patee owed money to various interests and couldn’t make his payments. In a last ditch attempt, he lowered the prices for the Patee Motor Cycle to $150, but it wasn’t enough to pull the company out of the financial mess.
June 1901: A Patee Motor Cycle wins at the Newby Oval.
By May 1902, Patee Bicycle Company had completely dissolved, the last known information was of Joshua M. Morris moving back to New York to start the Morris-Corkhill Motor Co.
Many believe that if not for Fred Patee’s past indiscretions, which may have contributed to the financial downfall of the company, then Patee could have been a third motorcycle giant alongside Harley and Indian due to its considerable assets. At the time of acquisition in 1900, Outing was the best selling bicycle in America, Munger a strong contender and journals touted Morris’s engine as being reliable and all three companies had thrived in spite of the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent hard financial years that followed.
There is currently no known model of the elusive Patee Motor Cycle to exist to this day, though there are a few bicycles that bears the marque. The interesting prototype tandem motorcycle is also lost in time.
May 1901: Fred Patee (Left) and Joshua Morris (Right) with their tandem motorcycle.
Today, the remnants of the factory that used to produce one of the earliest motorcycles can be found near the intersection of W 18th and Gent Ave. The dealer who sold Patee’s bicycles and motorcycles occupied 359 Massachusetts Ave, the same block where Harry L. Dipple would years later sell Harleys, thus continuing Indiana’s saga in motorcycle history.
*Motor Cycle vs. Motorcycle: It was common from the late 1880's up until about the 1920s for people to use the term motor cycle more frequently than motorcycle.