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Antique Motorcycles: Charles Metz & Waltham Mfg.

1912 Marsh Metz

Waltham Manufacturing Co. and the Metz Orient Motorcycle

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America's first motorcycle company, the "Waltham Manufacturing Company" (WMC) of Waltham, Massachusetts, was co-founded by Charles Herman Metz (1863–1937) in 1893. Waltham began by manufacturing bicycles, but by 1903 Charles expanded the company into automobile and motorcycle manufacturing. Waltham Manufacturing was a spinoff of the Waltham Watch Company, which was established in 1854 by Aaron Dennison.

Metz moved to Massachusetts in 1893, to begin a new career designing racing bicycles for the Union Cycle Club in Newton Highlands. He then went on to form Waltham Manufacturing with three other partners, and $100,000 in seed money. Although the company was incorporated in Maine, the physical location was on Rumford Avenue in Waltham. Metz called his cycles "Orient racing bicycles," named after the Orient Fire Insurance Company of New York where he had previously sold insurance.

Waltham Watch Company
Waltham Watch Company (c. 1890)

In the early years of Waltham Manufacturing, they produced "pacer" bicycle, tandem cycles, and "safety bicycles" which were a response to two cyclists being killed in a race at the Waltham Bicycle Park in 1894. Metz held over 20 patents for his innovative safety designs, notably the "Left Thread" pedal which would not unthread and detach while riding. Waltham was also known for such oddities as the 1896 "Oriten," (aka "On-ten") a improbable ten-seater bicycle which is now on display at the the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Metz and the 'Orient-Aster' Motor-Driven Bicycle

Charles H. Metz is credited with being the first to coin the term "motor cycle," first used in an 1899 advertisement for the upcoming Orient. Waltham Manufacturing's 1900 Orient Light Roadster and "Orient-Aster" were America's first mass-production motor driven cycles, which were also known simply as the "Orient Motorcycle."

Metz first introduced his creation to the world in July 1900, at the Charles River Race Track in Boston, marking the first recorded motorcycle speed event in the United States. The Orient set a track time of 7 minutes over a five mile course.

Waltham Orient Motorcycle
Enlarge: 1900 Orient Light Roadster

The "Aster" portion of the name came from their use of a motor made by the French manufacturing firm of Aster, while the earlier Orient Light Roadster was powered by the French-built de Dion-Bouton vˇlocip¸de engine. The Aster motor was built by the French firm of Ateliers de Construction Mecanique l'Aster in Saint-Denis, France. Aster built motors based on the revolutionary design of the 1895 French DeDion-Buton motor, which was one of the first mass-production gasoline engines.

The Orient-Aster's power-plant was a 138cc single-cylinder gasoline powered motor producing 1/2 horsepower. The Orient-Aster was produced until 1904. Both of the Orient's engines were situated high in the frame, at the center of the bike for even weight distribution. The engine's height had the added bonus of allowing the rider to easily adjust its carburetor while driving.

Orient-Aster Engine
Orient-Aster engine designed by Charles Metz

By 1902, Waltham also produced a gasoline-powered automobile known as the "Orient Buckboard." The Orient Model 1902 sold for around $875.00 With the immediate success of the Orient Buckboard automobile, Waltham Manufacturing soon came to be known as the "Metz Car Company." Among Metz' many other achievements, he also built one of the first electric cars, sponsored by Charles Coffin of the General Electric Company. Metz left the Waltham Manufacturing Company in 1902, to begin the "Metz Motorcycle Company" on Whitney Avenue behind a Woolworths Department Store in Waltham, Massachusetts.

The new 'Metz motorcycle' was another instant success, establishing another American speed record for a 70 second one-mile run at 51.42 mph.

Waltham Manufacturing continued to manufacture watches, speedometers, compasses, stoves, boilers, aircraft parts, gramophones, Victrolas and radios through the mid 1900s, later focusing only on specialized clocks and chronographs for use in aircraft control panels. Waltham was sold in 1994, becoming the Waltham Aircraft Clock Corporation in Ozark, Alabama.

The 'American Motorcycle Co.' and the Marsh Metz 'M-M'

With the success of the Metz motorcycle, Charles Metz joined into a partnership with David Marsh, who was the designer of the first Waltham watch. Marsh had already begun the Marsh Motorcycle Company in Brockton, Massachusetts in 1905, and the merger between the two created the "American Motorcycle Company" in Brockton. It was here that the "Marsh-Metz," also known as the "M-M" was born.

1913 Marsh Metz Motorcycle
Enlarge: 1913 Marsh Metz 'MM'

The newly formed American Motorcycle Company built its first two-cylinder engine in 1906, a 4 horsepower 1000cc v-twin that powered the MM (Marsh Metz).

Marsh Metz 1087cc V-Twin Motor
Marsh Metz 1087cc V-Twin Motor

By 1908, Waltham Manufacturing had run out of money ant the current owners wanted Metz to return as the new owner. To revive the company, and raise cash fast, Metz designed an inexpensive kit-car called the "Plan Car," which could be assembled by the consumer from fourteen separate kits. Although the Plan Car was not a huge success, Metz did turn the company around, and in 1911 the company expanded to the Gore Estate, using the first floor of the converted mansion as a new car showroom.

Marsh Metz Tiller Handelbars & Chrome Bullet-Tank
Marsh Metz "Tiller" Handelbars & Chrome Bullet-Tank

By 1915, the Metz Company had produced over 7,200 cars, but with the start of World War I the factory was conscripted by the United States government to manufacture airplane parts. After the war ended in 1918 the government refused to pay its debt for the company's expenditures, and by 1921, the company once-again fell on hard times.

Marsh Metz MM 1087cc V-Twin Motor
Enlarge: M-M 1087cc V-Twin Motor

Metz even changed the name of his company back to the "Waltham Company," believing that his German-sounding name was holding him back. In 1923, the company declared bankruptcy, and was liquidated. That same year, Metz used his last production car to drive his family across the country to relocated in Glendale, California, starting a cabinetry factory. Metz died on June 29, 1937.

Vintage Marsh Metz Links

The Metz Company of Waltham

Charles H. Metz: Transporting Waltham to International Fame

Charles H. Metz

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