The Feilbach Motorcycle was manufactured from 1904 to 1914 by Arthur Otto Feilbach. Arthur built his first motorcycle in 1904 in his small garage outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the assistance of his younger brother William. The Feilbach motorcycle originally appeared as a single-cylinder model, and for the first few years was built out of Feilbach’s own workshop/garage in very small numbers. These machines were mostly sold direct to the local Wisconsin market. Because they were manufactured with high precision and were good reliable machines, the motorcycles gained a popular following. It was simply named the Feilbach motorcycle. It was a small single cylinder engine, about 21 cubic (350 cc) inches, and used a belt drive model. The exact engine specifications have been lost over the years. In the first few years of Arthur’s work, the design evolved on an almost ad hoc basis. After the great success of his home built machines, Arthur decided that in order to expand he must formalize the design, manufacturing and marketing of the motorcycles. Finally, in 1907, he produced an all new and improved Feilbach motorcycle. In that same year, the Feilbach Motor Co. was formalized within the city of Milwaukee. The official name of the company was “Feilbach Motor Co. Ltd.” All of the bikes he made that year (a total of three) were all sold before they were finished. These machines had an engine bore and stroke of 3¼ and 3½. In 1908, he produced five additional machines, which sold quickly. Seven more machines were manufactured in 1909 and also sold quickly. In these two years, 1907 through 1909, the design of the Feilbach motorcycle remained largely unchanged.
In the year 1910, Arthur Feilbach manufactured nine machines, all incorporating many new improvements to the design. The changes included a new engine bore, increased to 3 5⁄16, and mechanically actuated inlet valves were added. Early in 1911, a patented spring fork was added, the gasoline tank was made larger, and a magneto was added. The spring fork added considerable comfort to the ride. A total of thirteen motorcycles were sold in 1911.
In late 1912, Arthur organized the Feilbach Motor Co., with the backing of several Milwaukee area businessmen, including former coworkers of the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Works; where, interestingly enough, a young Bill Harley also worked for a time in 1907-08 after graduating from college. Arthur and the Feilbach Motor Co. produced 75 machines in 1912. On March 13, 1913, the Feilbach Motor Co. purchased a new site of 5¼ acres upon which a new building was erected. The Feilbach Motor Company moved to the new 7100 square foot plant located at the northern city limits of Milwaukee on Keefe Avenue.
During 1913, the Feilbach Motor Co., was looking like it had a bright future ahead of it. The twin model was introduced and 158 machines hit the road--108 of which were V-twin models. Also of interest during 1913, Feilbach Motor Co. was an exhibitor at several automotive and motorcycle shows. In early January of 1913, Feilbach Motor Co., displayed accessories and the current 1913 version of the V-twin at the fifth annual Milwaukee Motor Show Association on January 11th to the 17th. In February, for the first time in the history of the motorcycle industry a separate national show was held under the auspices of the Motorcycle Manufacturers’ Association in the Manufacturers’ Exhibition building in Chicago. There were 71 exhibitors who attended this very first motorcycle show which demonstrated that the motorcycle industry welcomed the opportunity to exhibit at a display of this character.
It is not known exactly how many machines were manufactured in 1914; most estimates place the number somewhere between 900 to 1000. The spacious and modern factory located on Keefe Avenue was a large contributing factor to the rapid growth of the company. During this time the 1,130cc V-twin added offset cylinders vastly increasing power output. Ads were also purchased in several national motorcycle periodicals. The name “Limited” was adopted both as a tribute to the increasingly fast trains of the day, but also, it was claimed, due to the necessary “limited” production in order to ensure a high quality product was manufactured.
In 1914, the Feilbach Limited (twin) was the only Feilbach produced and production of the single cylinder was abandoned. For 1914, Feilbach Motor Co. announced a stunning Limited shaft-drive V-twin. The shaft drive version was also outfitted with a two-speed transmission and used a worm-gear drive mechanism to turn the shaft drive, making it, perhaps, one of the most modern and advanced American motorcycles of that period. It was reported that the worm-gear suffered from teething problems and production did not last long. At the time, belts were quieter and cleaner than drive chains. Feilbach attempted to solve this problem by installing drive shafts on the new models. Very few shaft-drive models were ever manufactured and it appears that both it and the chain driven Limited did not survive into the 1915 production season. The shaft drive version is the rarest of all Feilbach motorcycles ever produced. No known shaft drive Feilbachs are known to exist today.
With limited capital at his disposal and complications from the shaft drive model, Arthur Feilbach ceased production in late 1914 and closed the factory. At that time, the first Feilbach machine was still owned by Arthur Feilbach, and it was said to have over 63,000 miles accumulated with no problems reported. Many Feilbach motorcycles were used by the Milwaukee Police in 1914 through 1916. It was widely speculated that Harley-Davidson used its then massive resources to put Feilbach out of business by constraining access to capital resources. Arthur was unable to secure additional financing to continue the production and marketing of the Limited. The company finally declared bankruptcy in 1916.
Several years later in 1920, Arthur, still laboring in northern Milwaukee, designed and marketed a new valve lifter for use in garage repair shops. These tools sold for between $7.50 and $10. Arthur Otto Feilbach died in 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 72.
By the standards of the day, the Feilbach Limited V-twin was a big, heavy, powerful motorcycle of 69 cubic inches, making it larger in displacement than contemporary Harley-Davidson twins. Although produced in small numbers, build quality was extremely good. Only between two and five 1913/1914 Feilbach Limited chain-drive V-twin motorcycles survive today.
The text on this page was written by Jason Feilbach and copied from his webpage located at the following URL: https://www.feilbach.org/the-feilbach-motorcycle/
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