Mystery Photo: Massillon Bicycle Repair

This cabinet card was found in our inherited collection of Sword Family photos and documents.

It’s been bugging me.

“Can I interest you in our latest model? State of the art, baby.”

As far I I’ve researched, we don’t have any connections to Massillon, Ohio. I don’t recognize these two gentlemen from any other photos in our newfound collection.

Why were these two bowler-capped fellows so important as to keep with with our family archives?

The fellow on the left with the bicycle offers a salesman’s smile of congeniality as in “what will it take to get you riding this fine machine home today?” While that tall drink of water who’s leaning in the doorway likes he owns the place is scowling – complete with a deeply furrowed brow. More bicycles can be seen in the shadows behind him.

Both are in gentlemen’s clothing; Scowl Guy’s watch fob is visible beneath his coat. They have the look of, while not qualifying as the 1% of their day, they are above the status of a physical laborer.

I did enhance the slightly damaged photo to make the text easier to read. The large sign with the lighter text says “General Repairing.” The sign below is “Novelty Works” with “Bicycles” and “Instruments” set as vertical. There may be some text below Novelty Works, but I can’t adjust the Photoshop settings to read it.

I reached out to the Massillon Historical Society for help and received this info from their archivist.

Hello Donna, I can tell you that the Volkmor photography studio was open from 1894 to 1928. He took photographs across the region and stamped almost all of his work, just like this photograph.
Based on the outfits of the two men in the photo, and the bicycles, I believe this is c.1900. The sign says “General Repairing,” which doesn’t quite help us tell what business this is.

Searching through the Business and Industry Database through the Massillon Public Library, I came up with two possible businesses:

Smith Bicycle and Light Manufacturing Company, which also did bicycle repair. It was open in 1898. It was still open in 1929

There was a Novelty Repair Shop open in 1930 (possible to have been open earlier).

So we work with the clues we have.

The archivist’s estimation of circa 1900 fits with 1) cabinet card; 2) bowler hats; and 3) white rubber bicycle tires.

I spent some time looking at Massillon, Ohio newspapers. I’m making an assumption the Massillon stamp on the bottom right of the cabinet card refers to the photographer’s shop, not necessarily the location of the general repair shop in the photo. Still, it’s reasonable to assume the photo’s location to be within a day’s ride by horse and wagon.

Foster & Zinsmaster, formerly Foster & Pocock, have an impressive business in nearby Navarre, only about five miles from Massillon.

Massillon Item, 13 Jul 1898. Included in a list of Navarre businesses.

They sell and repair bicycles almost as a side gig to their carriage works. They appear to be that era’s version of a big box store.

But there’s also this guy.

Massillon Item, 22 Sep 1898

John R. Smith moved his business from 47 W. Main Street to 19 S. Mill Street sometime in 1898. He posted regularly in the classified section of the Massillon Item newspaper for the last quarter of the year reminding his client base of his new location. It kinda makes sense he would want a photo of his grand opening.

And I’m thinking this could be the business identified by the Massillon archivist: “Smith Bicycle and Light Manufacturing Company, which also did bicycle repair. It was open in 1898. It was still open in 1929.”

In the end, I don’t have a resource to confirm who these gentlemen could be. And if I consider that 200 miles separate Massillon from Dayton, I’m still stuck on what possible connection our family had with them. Travel across mid-Ohio territory in 1898 would have been some serious slow-going. You’d have to be doing that trip on purpose and for good reason. Like getting married or running from the law or something.

Still, I’m curious what you think as you look at this. Any insights? I’d honestly appreciate it.

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