Dan Rudge: The Beginning
Daniel Rudge had been the landlord of the ‘Tiger’s Head’ public house in Wolver-hampton, Staffordshire. His close friend was Henry Clarke, who started a wagon wheel building business and then ran the Cogent Cycle Co. Daniel was interested in racing, and with Henry’s help he began to build his own racing machines at 19 Church Street, Wolverhampton, which included an improved form of wheel bearing. Many people wanted his bicycles, and in 1870 he started building and selling racing machines. He made many improvements to his bicycles and they soon became the best racing machines that were available at the time. He started to take part in the races that were held in the grounds of the Molineux Hotel, Wolver-hampton. He won the very first cycle race to be held there in 1869, and was very successful. He started producing high-wheelers in 1874. In 1878 he was awarded a gold medal for his exhibit at the London Cycle Show. His use of ball bearings (patent 1878/526) and the quality of production brought his machines a wide spread fame. Dan Rudge died on 26 June 1880, having formed the Rudge business, and his widow continued to run it until November 1880 when it was sold to George Woodcock and amalgamated with the bankrupt businesses of Haynes & Jefferis and Smith Starley & Co. to form the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co.
The combined business relocated and traded at Ariel Works, Trafalgar Street, Coventry, Warwickshire, in 1880. In 1885 the business was transferred into a private limited company called D. Rudge & Co. Ltd. and there was then an address at Crow Lane, Coventry. It became the Rudge Cycle Co Ltd, Coventry, on 21 October, 1887, a public company with capital of £200,000. Walter Philips was the renowned works manager and H. J. Lawson the sales manager. Stoddard & Lovering of Boston, Mass., were the USA agents.
Maker of the ‘Ariel’, ‘Emperor’, ‘Mechanic’s’, ‘Rudge’ ‘Swiftsure’ and ‘Tangent’ high-wheelers. The ‘No.2 Ordinary’ was one of the best known competitive machines of its era which pioneered adjustable ball races on wheels and pedals. Other competitive features pioneered by the company were hollow backbones and lighter tangentially spoked wheels.
Although Rudge took over manufacture of the ‘Coventry Rotary’ from Starley & Sutton from 1885, renaming it the ‘Rudge Rotary’, the name ‘Coventry Rotary’ stuck and was revived from 1890 in catalogues, until production ceased in 1892. The ‘Triplet Tandem Quadricycle Direct Steering Roadster’ was produced from 1888.
From 1885-95, D. Rudge & Co. was producing Humber bicycles for Marriott and Cooper after they had parted company with Humber.
The ‘Royal Crescent’ tricycle was made for about three years from 1886. It was introduced in Roadster, Ladies and Racer forms. Also the ‘Royal Crescent’ tandem tricycle. By 1886 the company was making safety bicycles with diamond pattern frames but with halved tubes for lightness named the ‘Bicyclette’. It became the French name for all their safety bicycles. The Rudge cross-frame safety was patented by H. Wilson in 1887 and sold as the ‘Rocket’. A ‘Parcels Carrier’ and ‘Parcels Express’ were made before 1892 as well as the ‘Road Sculler’ (see Road Sculler Co. Ltd) and ‘Triplet’. In 1894 it built the ‘Giraffe’ safety, along with J. K. Starley & Co., under licence from Humber & Co. Ltd.
In May 1891 George Woodcock (b.1836) died. This coincided with a reduction in trade as although Rudge had a good name its sales were low as the models were dated. Up until this time H. O. Duncan had run the Rudge Sales Office in Paris. He disposed of 6,000 cross-frame machines that had been sent to France to avoid the expected import restrictions. Unfortunately, these had been sent with solid-tyred wheels just at the point when pneumatic tyres were coming in to use. Duncan got round the problem by selling the obsolete machines at half price and was sanctioned by the board. He had managed to get rid of all the stock within one year, which was remarkable.
The company was rescued by the Whitworth Cycle Co in 1894, to form Rudge-Whitworth Ltd. Until 1896 there was a combined catalogue showing Rudge-Whitworth, Rudge and Whitworth machines.