Monday 7th July 1958
Joseph F. Merkel, designer/manufacturer of the 1905-1907 Merkel automobile and the Flying Merkel motorcycle, died in Rochester, New York. In 1897, Merkel accepted a draftsman position at E.P. Allis Co. (later to become Allis-Chalmers Co.) in Milwaukee. By the turn of the century, Merkel had opened his own business that manufactured bicycle parts. By 1901, Merkel was attaching small motors to bicycles and the Merkel Motorcycle was born. A motor-powered tricycle Merkel had built in 1900 was thought to be one of the first self-propelled vehicles built in Wisconsin. Merkel didn’t stop at motorcycles. In 1906, his company built 150 automobiles featuring a powerful 30-horsepower engine. In 1908, Merkel merged his company with the Light Motor Co. and the new Merkel-Light Motor Co. moved activities to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Flying Merkels were known for having one of the finest rides in all of motorcycling and also as one of the most reliable motorcycles on the road. Merkel also helped design a unique front and rear suspension system on his motorcycles. The rear suspension was a mono-shock design that proved to be decades ahead of its time. Yamaha would later make a similar single rear shock design popular again on racing machines of the 1970s and beyond. Even more impressive than the rear suspension was the front fork of the Flying Merkels. The fork was so good (telescopic in principle, using dual coil springs, yet looking like an unsprung trussed fork) that many other manufacturers put Merkel forks on their factory racing machines even through the 1920s, years after Merkel had ceased production.