[President Coolidge in front of the White House]
Look on the internet and you’ll find dozens of accounts of W. J. Graham of Enfield, Middlesex, England receiving a patent for a motorcycle side car in January 1903, apparently following the publication of a cartoon in Motor Cycling magazine on January 7, 1903.
It would have taken much longer than the three weeks between the publishing of the cartoon and the granting of a patent for anyone to draft a working design for a new product, and there is no way a patent was applied for and received in that short amount of time.
It took months or years for a patent to be approved once the papers were filed so I feel safe in saying Mr. Graham’s work probably inspired the cartoon instead of the other way around. As with many inventions, there’s no definitive proof that Mr. Graham was actually the first to work on a design, but he was certainly one of the first.
The sidecar was, “calculated to meet the wants of that large number of people who cannot afford the more expensive machines; also for doctors and business men who have more or less running around the city where better time can be made with the small vehicle. The motorcycle side car is the intermediate carriage between the motorcycle and the automobile, though costing only a little more than the former and only one-third the price of the cheapest automobiles.” – Popular Mechanics. Aug. 1905.
The model pictured in the preceding magazine article, a wicker version weighing 175 lbs., was supposed to carry up to 400 lbs. and would cover 30 miles in an hour.
A few short years later, manufacturers were focusing their attention on workmen who would benefit from having a side car rig to carry their tools and tool box in, merchants who wanted an economical delivery vehicle, hunters who could carry camping gear and haul their game home, and anyone who carried baggage but wanted to travel by motorcycle. – Motor Age. Dec. 14, 1922.
Numerous patents for improvement in design were issued throughout the 20th century.
In 1969, the sidecar was said to be making a comeback after having fallen somewhat out of favor since its heyday during the First World War. During the twenties and thirties the sidecar declined in popularity although the motorcycle’s appeal continued to increase.
A 60’s model sported an upholstered interior with nylon rug material on the floor and side panels, and the seat base and back were covered in black Naugahyde. – Popular Science. Dec. 1969.
Perhaps one of the most endearing images of the motorcycle side car, and one of the most lasting impressions of it as an early military vehicle, was the episode of the Andy Griffith Show when Barney purchased an old military surplus motorcycle with a side car with the intention of using it in law enforcement. If you haven’t seen it, pull it up on You-tube and enjoy a lighthearted comedic assessment of the machine’s capabilities when in the “wrong” hands.