The Wright Special

In addition to the "Van Cleve" and "St. Clair" models, some biographers have written that the Wright brothers also made a bicycle called a "Wright Special." The 17 April 1896 issue of Snapshots, a small magazine the Wrights published to advertise their bicycle and printing businesses, announced that they were about to manufacture their own bicycles. "The WRIGHT SPECIAL will contain nothing but high grade material throughout..." Their company ledger records that they made 12 "specials" over the years they were in the bicycle business, but no pictures or examples have ever turned up.

If you're curious as to what the Wright Special might have been, consider how bicycles were manufactured in the 1890s. The Wrights did not make their own frames, saddles, pedals, and so on. They bought them from other sources. Pope Manufacturing, for example, made the bicycle frames the Wrights used. The Wrights looked for parts that represented the look and quality they wanted their bicycles to have, then put them together with their own nameplates. Even the nameplates were made by someone else! They were stamped by Dayton Stencil Works.

On their higher-priced Van Cleve, the Wrights made some parts in their own shop. They were particularly proud of their hubs; their design kept out the dirt and kept in the lubrication much better than other mass-produced hubs. But even the Van Cleve was mostly assembled from parts made elsewhere.

Considering this, it's doubtful that the handful of "specials" listed in the ledgers of the Wright Cycle Company constituted a third model line. The Van Cleve was probably the brand name the Wrights adopted for the "Wright Special" referred to in Snapshots. They introduced the St. Clair as a low-price alternative, but dropped it after 1899. Those "specials" recorded in the ledger were probably bikes made to order with features or equipment the Wrights didn't customarily offer on their regular models perhaps a saddle or a set of coaster brakes from a company the Wrights didn't ordinarily deal with.  "Special" simply meant "special order."

The Wright Special Bicycle