Wheel Man

Robert M. Keating, Pioneer of Bicycles, Motorcycles and Automobiles


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About the Book

Robert M. Keating’s story is America’s story. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1862 to poor Irish immigrants, he was just 13 when his father died suddenly. A precocious boy with a knack for mechanics, Keating filed his first patent at 22, started his own bicycle company at 28, and at 32 was producing one of the most innovative bicycle lines in the world in a state-of-the-art factory. Along the way he flirted with baseball, briefly playing in the major leagues and patenting the game’s rubberized home plate. In early 1901 Keating developed and marketed a ground-breaking motorcycle before either Indian or Harley-Davidson, and later successfully sued both companies for patent infringement. His company also manufactured automobiles beginning in 1898, producing both electric and gasoline powered vehicles. At the time of his death at 59, Keating held 49 patents—everything from bicycle and motorcycle designs to lunch-chairs to a modern flushing device for toilets. This book tells the story of Keating and his Keating Wheel Company, a Gilded Age story of unbridled inventiveness that encapsulates America’s transformation into a society that would forever move on wheels.

About the Author(s)

After a long career developing workforce and economic development policy, R.K. Keating now lives in New Hampshire.

Bibliographic Details

R.K. Keating

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 404
Bibliographic Info: 58 photos, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7970-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1644-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Prologue: What Hibernicus Heard 5

Part I. Beginnings
1. Wild Irish Roots 11
2. The Making of an Engineer 16
3. Keating Plays Ball 20
4. A First for the Whip City 28

Part II. Holyoke
5. Marciene Whitcomb and the Keating Bicycle Factory 33
6. There’s a New Wheel in Town 41
7. “See That Curve?” 49
8. Charles Dexter Rood 58
9. Keating Joins the Show 65
10. From a Fad to a Boom 73
11. Notions of a Horseless Age 83

Part III. Middletown
12. Ends and Beginnings 93
13. A Factory like No Other 105
14. “365 Days Ahead of Them All” 114
15. Best-Laid Plans 123
16. The Saddle King 133
17. The Governor 142
18. Tactics and Flanking Maneuvers 147
19. Changes in the Wind 152

Part IV. Motors and Mayhem
20. Keeping Pace 161
21. The Royal Blue Express 167
22. Matters of Trust 172
23. A Trust That Matters 179
24. Apple Green, Trimmed in Black 184
25. Keating Spins His Wheels 192

Part V. Collapse
26. Garford Makes Demands 201
27. Going for the Jugular 207
28. The Receiver 216
29. Exit Strategy 224
30. Milestones and Millstones 233

Part VI. What Might Have Been
31. From Schemes to Dreams 241
32. Claims and Counter Claims 250
33. The Motorcycle City 257
34. Forward and Reverse 266
35. Second Chances 274
36. The Light Fades 282
37. The Curtain Comes Down in Middletown 288

Part VII. Return to Springfield
38. Dark Days 293
39. Reboot 299
40. Taking On the Big Boys 307
41. The Bottom of the Ninth 318
42. Requiem 322

Epilogue 327
Afterword 329
A: The Keating Wheel Company Officers and Members of the Board of Directors 343
B: Robert M. Keating’s Patents, 1884–1920 345
C: The Only Original 1901 Keating Motorcycle Known to Exist 347
Notes 349
Bibliography 377
Index 385

Book Reviews & Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title. ALA Outstanding Reference Source
“Keating has delivered an exceptional chronicle of the history of Robert M. Keating and the Keating Wheel Company…the depth of this work is a researcher’s (and reader’s) dream…no other resource covers the inventor like this one does…recommended to readers interested not only in entrepreneurship but also in the early history of bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles…highly recommended”—Choice.