Before Lucas was making electrical components for cars, they were making parts and accessories for bicycles? Here’s some other interesting facts about Joseph Lucas LTD...
Long before automobiles even existed, Lucas was making oil lamps for bicycles. They had particular model which hung from the hub of a penny farthing, way back in the 1870s. Yes, Lucas has been in business that long.
When electric lighting became feasible, Lucas began making lighting sets for bicycles, as seen in this ad from 1943:
However, the one cycling related item that Lucas is best remembered for was their Cyclometer, as pictured at the top. They made these for over half a century with few changes. It’s an odometer which mounts on the front axle, and has a star-wheel which is struck by a spoke mounted drive pin once for every revolution of the front wheel. Lucas wasn’t the first to produce such a device, but they were arguably the most successful.
The bicycle business presented a serious problem for Lucas though. Sales fluctuated with the seasons, making it difficult to maintain a workforce. The cyclometer, for example, required three months of training to learn how to assemble. So any layoffs in down periods translated to huge sums of money lost on training employees. Diversification into automotive components and accessories was theoretically supposed to help alleviate the problem of seasonal ups and downs, but the reality was it hardly helped. Because even with contracts with major manufacturers, their requirements were hardly steady, and many companies requested minute changes be made to products, meaning standardization of parts and production methods was nearly impossible.
Lucas teamed up with several American companies to learn methods of mass production in order to streamline their workforce. New Departure, an American company which started out making door bells, before turning to production of coaster brakes was one American partner. Lucas and New Departure (BTW, what an amazing company name) shared production techniques as well as designs for products.
Interestingly, Lucas was also the single largest industrial employer of women in Britain during the inter-war years. Single women were less likely to be laid off in down periods, married women it seems were seen as being employees who could be rehired into the workforce as needed, whereas single women would go off and find jobs elsewhere. Consequently, female employees tended to keep their marital status secret. This again is tied into the problem of seasonal demand.
Lucas marketed their cycling accessories as “cyclealities” and their motoring components as “motoralities”. Motorcycle parts were “motor-cyclealities”. I kid you not.
“Motoralities” does have a certain ring to it that “car parts” does not, although I don’t think the same can be said for “cyclealities”.
In the end, Lucas dropped their line of cyclealities. There was stiff competition in the postwar years from around the globe, in the business of cycle lights and lamps; and although it took a while, the Cyclometer eventually faced competition too, and seems to have finally been discontinued in the 70s. I may be wrong, but I think it was the last cycling accessory Lucas manufactured.