E. J. Pennington

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Pennington Autocar 1896
National Motor Museum
The 1896 Kane Pennington engine on display in Bedford Museum & Art Gallery
Pennington's patent for a "Motor-Vehicle"

Edward Joel Pennington (1858 in Moores Hill, Indiana – 1911 in Springfield, Massachusetts) was an inventor and promoter of many mechanical devices, including airships, motorcycles, and automobiles.[1] In addition to motor vehicles, he applied for and received patents for Stirling engines, ignition systems, planing machines, and pulleys.

He often promoted his inventions with grandiose and spurious claims, which would become a hallmark of his entrepreneurial schemes.[2] Frequently he collected financial backing for his business ventures, but rarely (if ever) did his investors ever collect any dividends from his projects. He was regarded by many as a fraud on account of his unproven claims and business practices, yet he never spent any time in prison as a result of these accusations.

Pennington married three times. He died in Springfield, Massachusetts after contracting meningitis from falling down in the street.


E.J. Pennington is probably best known today for his pioneering motorcycles.[3] He is sometimes credited with having invented the word "motorcycle"; he used the term as early as 1893. Pennington built and demonstrated his original motorcycle design in Milwaukee in 1895. Apparently not finding any backers for his idea he took it to England where he sold the patents for it to Harry John Lawson's The Great Horseless Carriage Company Limited in 1896 and joined that company's board of directors. Lawson had two more prototypes built[4] but nothing further came from the design. Pennington made many claims for his motorcycle, but it is doubtful if any of them are true. The design was very primitive and a few journalists of the time expressed doubts as to whether or not it would even run, though The Autocar reported in June 1896: "...although the motor required some little alteration, the speed developed was said to have varied from thirty to forty miles per hour."[5] Notable features were that the engine's cranks were connected directly to the rear axle, the cylinders had no cooling fins, and Pennington made use of balloon tires - an invention he is also often credited with.[6]

After his motorcycle plans came to nothing, Pennington working in conjunction with Lawson attempted to design a car bearing his own name. Although payments were taken for orders of this design, apparently none were ever delivered. Journalists speculated that the car was a failure in design, and The Horseless Age remarked sarcastically that: "...the Pennington car, which is not a car, since it does not carry, but has to be carried..." was partly responsible for bad press about the automobile in general and Lawson's motor syndicate in England at the time.[7] The only surviving example of this design is preserved by the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire, England.[8]

Pennington returned to the U.S. and attempted to promote a few more schemes, as well as collect money he thought people owed him for his patents.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "End of Pennington, Erratic Promoter," The New York Times, March 10, 1911, retrieved August 10, 2008.
  2. ^ Day, Richard, and Lewis, Byron R. "The Man Behind the Hoax: Pennington Spent Life Going Through Fortunes," The Valley Advance, April 15, 1980 Archived July 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine retrieved August 10, 2008.
  3. ^ Wagner, Herbert (2003). Harley-Davidson: At the Creation. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87020-351-7. Archived from the original on 2013-08-19. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  4. ^ Chadwick, Ian. "Pennington" (in list of) British motorcycle manufacturers P:, June 6, 2003, retrieved August 10, 2008.
  5. ^ Holmes, Timothy A.D. "Motorcycle Myth: Rebels without a Horse" International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, March 2007, retrieved on August 10, 2008.
  6. ^ "Inventors and Entrepreneurs" Racine, Wisconsin Claims to Fame, Wisconsin Internet, Inc., undated page Archived 2007-08-18 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved August 10, 2008.
  7. ^ E. P. Ingersoll, Editor (1899). The Horseless Age. Horseless Age Co.
  8. ^ " Weird cars gather at Beaulieu" Motorsnippets Museums directory, undated, retrieved August 10, 2008.
  • "Pennington". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved April 4, 2016.

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