Thomas Humber

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Thomas Humber
Thomas Humber circa 1890.jpg
Thomas Humber circa 1890
Born 16 October 1841[1]
Andrew St, Brightside, Sheffield, England
Died 24 November 1910[2]
Occupation Entrepreneur, manufacturer of bicycles,

Thomas Humber (1841–1910)[1] was a British cycle manufacturer who founded the Humber bicycle company in 1868 in Beeston, Nottinghamshire. By 1896 the company, under new management, ventured into Humber motor cars and became the first maker of series production cars in England.[3][4][5]

Personal life[edit]

Thomas Humber was born in Andrew Street, Brightside, Sheffield on 16 October 1841 the son of Samuel Humber, a tailor, and his wife Lucy née Turton.[1] His parents moved to Kingston upon Hull when he was 5 years old and he attended the Salthouse Lane school. On leaving school he was apprenticed to the blacksmith William Campion, and then worked on sewing and weaving machines.[3][5]

His son Samuel was born circa 1855 in Nottingham and worked as a bicycle fitter in the Beeston factory.[6]

Cycle manufacture[edit]

Thomas Humber and T.H.Lambert on a Humber Tandem Tricycle, circa 1885
A c.1890 Humber Safety bicycle, now in the collections of The Science Museum

William Campion visited Paris in 1867 and purchased a simple Michaux velocipede where the pedals acted directly on the front wheel. Humber improved this design and in 1868 created a safety bicycle whereby the pedals drove the rear wheel. Demand was great, so in 1869 Thomas founded 'Humber & Company Limited' at Beeston, Nottinghamshire.[3][4][5]

In 1884 Humber patented a safety bicycle.[7]

In 1887 Thomas Humber sold the company[clarification needed] to Joseph Horton of Birmingham who already owned the 'Joseph Devey' bicycle company, and production was transferred to the Devey factory at Ashes Works, Pelham Street, Wolverhampton, plus a factory in Great Brick-kiln Street.[4][8] By 1896 the company had a factory in Pountney Street, and showrooms in Queen Street. In 1900 Humber moved production to the Stoke district in Coventry.[4]

Actually, from the Humber Museum's website: Humber was founded by Thomas Humber in 1868 to make the Ordinary. With the first diamond-frame in 1884, they became renowned bicycle manufacturers. Financial whiz-kid Terah Hooley subsequently took over the company and Humber left in 1892.

Cycle racing[edit]

In 1891 Charles Terront won the world's first long distance race, Paris–Brest–Paris, riding a Humber bicycle fitted prototype removable pneumatic tyres made by Michelin.[9][10][11][12][13]

Humber Manufacturing after direct association with Thomas Humber[edit]

The 'sale' to Joseph Horton in 1887 may mark the end of Thomas Humber's direct association with the elements of the business.[8] Harry Lawson had acquired the Humber name by circa 1896. Some reports claim that Thomas left the business in 1892.[citation needed] To be clarified.

In 1887 Humber went into partnership with 'Marriott and Cooper' for whom Daniel Rudge then built 'Humber' bicycles in Wolverhampton. Thus 'Genuine Humber' was coined to distinguish Thomas Humber's cycles.[4][14]

The company's expansion in the 1870s and 1880s culminated in factories in Nottingham, Beeston and Wolverhampton and Coventry in 1889. They produced cycles, tricycles and quadricyles. By 1900 Humber Ltd was one of the largest bicycle firms in Britain.[3][15]

Motorcycle manufacture[edit]

As a successful cycle manufacturer Humber was naturally interested motor manufacture. In 1896 Humber Motorcycles produced the first practical motorcycle made in the UK by fitting a bicycle with an E. J. Pennington two-horsepower motor.[3][16][17]

Motorcar manufacture[edit]

In 1896 Humber built a prototype and nine production motorcars in the new Coventry premises. They were exhibited at the 'Stanley Cycle Show' in London, the first series production cars made in England.[a][3][18][19]

In 1896 the Humber name was associated with the French conglomerate Clement, Gladiator & Humber (France) Ltd that had merged the three cycle manufacturers under the leadership of Adolphe Clément, Lord Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 20th Earl of Shrewsbury and (soon to be convicted) fraudster Harry John Lawson of Dunlop, in the form of the 'British Automobile Commercial Syndicate Ltd'.[b][20][21] The range of cycles was expanded with tricycles, quadricycles, a motorised bicycle, cars and motorcycles.[22][23]

The Beeston factory employed over 2,000 people around 1900 and went on to produce the exclusive 'Beeston-Humber'. It was closed in 1907/1908 after financial problems, after Humber moved the whole operation, including 2–3,000 people, to Coventry.[24]

Humber cars were renowned for reliability and endurance, and by the time of his death in 1910 were the third most popular car in Britain behind Ford Motor Company and Wolseley Motors Limited.[3]

Aircraft manufacture[edit]

In 1909, Humber opened an aircraft department where they built 50 Louis Blériot type monoplanes. This is assumed to not be directly associated with Thomas Humber as convicted fraudster Harry Lawson had by this time completed his '1 year of hard labour' and was to re-emerge as a director of the Blériot Manufacturing Aircraft Company Ltd., the English branch of Louis Blériot's aircraft company.[25]

In 1910 a Humber aeroplane was used for the world's first air-mail service in India.[3]

See also[edit]


a. ^ The Stanley Cycle Club organised the world's first cycle show (cycle fair) at the Agricultural Hall in Westminster, London, in 1876. It was a great success and was thus repeated annually, although by 1892 the English 'National Show' in Islington had surpassed it. The 13th Stanley Cycle Club exhibition on 27 January 1890 included 230 exhibitors and 1,500 cycles. (New York Times, February 1897)

b. ^ By 1896 the title of Humber cycles had been acquired from Joseph Horton by entrepreneur and (soon to be convicted) fraudster Harry Lawson, whilst the cycle factory of Thomas Humber at Beeston, Nottinghamshire started adding the soubriquet 'Genuine Humber' to its logo. (Flink The Automobile Age p. 21)


  1. ^ a b c Paul Freund, 'Humber, Thomas (1841–1910)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2012
  2. ^ Mr. Thomas Humber. Obituary. The Times, Saturday, 26 November 1910; pg. 15; Issue 39440
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h The Humber Car Museum
  4. ^ a b c d e Local History, Transport Museum, Humber
  5. ^ a b c Costers, Humber,Rolls Royce & Chrysler. – Humber : Historiek (Nederlandse)
  6. ^ Family Search database, 1881, Thomas Humber
  7. ^ "1884 Humber safety bicycle". Grace's Guide. 2008. Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  8. ^ a b EHG Bikes – Humber Motorcycles
  9. ^ Lugged Steel – Charles Terront
  10. ^ Le Petit Braquet – Charles Terront
  11. ^ French Wiki – Charles Terront
  12. ^ Memoire du Cyclisme – palmares – Charles Terront
  13. ^ A Hands – A short history of Paris–Brest–Paris by Gary Smith
  14. ^ Buy Vintage, Royal Enfield, History of Humber
  15. ^ Rootes Chrysler History, Humber
  16. ^ "Humber". Retrieved 6 July 2008. 
  17. ^ Kemp, Andrew (2001). Classic British Bikes. Bookmart Ltd. pp. 11–17. ISBN 1-86147-058-4. 
  18. ^ New York Times, February 1897, Growth of the Cycle Show by O.P.Vilson
  19. ^ Graces Guide, The Stanley Cycle Club
  20. ^ Georgano, N. (2000). Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile. London: HMSO. ISBN 1-57958-293-1. 
  21. ^ Yesterdays, Antique motorcycles, Auguste Clement
  22. ^ The Story of the Bicycle by John Woodforde
  23. ^ Beeston-Notts Industrial History
  24. ^ "Winding Up of an Aircraft Company., In Re Bleriot Manufacturing Aircraft Company (Limited)". The Times. 20 January 1916. 

External links[edit]