Las Vegas Premier Motorcycle Auction
January 12-14 2012
1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle
Lot No. 703
Auctioned on Saturday, January 14, 2012
Estimate available upon request.
Sylvester Roper mated a steam engine, boiler and bicycle together in 1867 to produce a steam powered velocipede that may be the earliest known motorcycle. While his two wheeled creations were never commercially successful, they provided inspiration and direction for the next generation of visionaries that focused on gas powered motorbikes at the turn into the 20th century. He constructed ten different types of vehicle, two of them being motorcycles. One of his steam powered carriages is preserved at the Henry Ford Museum and his earlier steam powered motorbike is entrusted to the prestigious Smithsonian Institution. Roper’s second motorcycle is the 1894 model presented here. It was his last vehicle, which took advantage of two decades of development since his first motorcycle. Starting with the frame of a, then state of the art, Columbia model 36 bicycle frame he fitted a compact rectangular boiler, burner, grate and a small steam engine on the right side, cranking on the rear wheel in the manner of his earlier cycle. A water tank was located directly above the boiler, from which a smoke vent exited at a rakish angle. A water pump was driven from the rear axle.
Roper reportedly used the motorcycle on a regular basis for pleasure and to demonstrate its potential. Unbelievably, Boston Globe archives show that Sylvester Roper suffered a fatal heart attack while riding this very machine in an exhibition at the Charles River track in Greater Boston. On his final day of riding, Roper covered three laps (one mile) of the track at just over one minute for a new track record. Later in the day, a friendly race ensued with a cyclist. It was destined to be Mr. Roper’s last ride, while spectators looked on, the 72 year old wobbled and then fell dead from the controls of his machine.
This pioneering and historic vehicle was eventually sold by one of Roper’s heirs to the Coney Island Museum in New York City. It resided in at least three museums in Florida before being acquired in 1996 by a private collector who has rarely shown this unique machine.
Presented in original condition and with a remarkable provenance dating back to its 1894 year of origin, this historic Roper Steam Runabout holds an important place in motoring history as one of the world’s first motorcycles. As one of only two built, the Roper offering presents an exclusive ownership opportunity for discerning collectors to acquire a significant piece of Americana. Auctions America is honored to be offering this intriguing motorcycle for the first time at a public sale.