Cycling and Hartford: Pt. II: Col. Pope and the Paradox of Progress
Hartford. 1895. Albert Augustus Pope, a Civil War veteran and Boston entrepreneur intuits that the cycling craze is at its height. Besides being a brilliant and savvy businessman, Pope, from a distinguished line of Boston entrepreneurs (mostly, lumber) has a sixth sense about these things. The commercial apex of the bicycle in the U.S., with literally hundreds of Columbia bicycles churned out on a daily basis at the Pope Manufacturing Co. on Capitol Ave. in Hartford is the sign that the apex is also the zenith. Pope puts his hopes and business acumen into the electric car. He even buys out George Selden's patent for the gasoline engine to head the competition off at the pass. But Pope's electric car doesn't catch on because the electric companies can't really see a profit in installing stations for charging the engine batteries. Plus, batteries don't hold a charge for long. Instead, there is plenty of gas in the earth and fewer technical issues with those filthy, greasy, smoking engines. Pope eventually sells a part of his claim on the patent to a cartel of fledgling car companies, perhaps with the idea that he can still maintain some profits and royalties. Henry Ford, as we all know, will eventually win the day, of course, stealing Selden's gas engine and thumbing his nose at the competition, and finally crushing his adversaries, including Col. Pope, in court.
For a moment though, a brief moment, Hartford was not only the bicycle capital of the U.S., but also the automotive capital. (We could have been driving electric cars in 1900 and Lord knows what the technology would be like today!). Pope's legacy, beside Columbia bicycles and Pope cars, is that he created the Great Roads Movement. To sell more bicycles, Pope understood that we would have to improve the rutted, rocky dirt lanes that were just good enough for horse carts. Thus, the "roadification" of the U.S. was Pope's dream for the bicycle. And even after he formally retired from making bicycles and cars, he continued to promote and to lobby for paved roads throughout the U.S..
In the following image looking toward the state capitol, Pope Manufacturing, Capitol Avenue, we see the Pope factory on Capitol Ave (on the left) and the housing Pope built for his skilled workers (on the right). In this link, I-84 viaduct, you can see the area in the foreground where the Pope Manufacturing Co. once was. You can also see quite obviously the I-84 viaduct that bisects the city and gargantuan Aetna which rises beyond. Could Pope have foreseen this development, a day when there would be as many roads as, if not more than, people? How many occupants are in each of those cars? How much space is required for each of the vehicles? Was this Pope's and Ford's view of progress? From the perspective of aesthetics, the environment, and sustainability, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Plus, we ain't allowed to ride our bikes on the interstate.